Nearly 3,000 people have signed a petition demanding that Trader Joe’s remove “racist packaging” used on international food items from its stores. The popular grocer has long denoted “foreign” and “exotic” items with variations on the name Joe, swapping the anglicized name for Trader Ming’s on Chinese products, Trader Joe San on Japanese items, and Trader José on Mexican ingredients.
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The petition, which has been circulating around the internet for two weeks, was initiated by high school student Briones Bedell. Briones argues that the modifications of the name Joe ultimately conceives a “narrative of exoticism,” one that “perpetuates harmful stereotypes.” “It presents ‘Joe’ as the default ‘normal’ and the other characters falling outside of it,” Briones writes.
With the petition garnering national attention, Trader Joe’s stated that the company had been in the process of removing these labels and replacing all of them under the umbrella term of Trader Joe’s. But for many customers, the company hasn’t moved quickly enough.
Kenya Friend-Daniel, the company’s national director of public relations said in a statement to SF Gate: “While this approach to product naming may have been rooted in a lighthearted attempt at inclusiveness, we recognize that it may now have the opposite effect—one that is contrary to the welcoming, rewarding customer experience we strive to create every day.”
“With this in mind, we made the decision several years ago to use only the Trader Joe’s name on our products moving forward. Since then, we have been in the process of updating older labels and replacing any variations with the name Trader Joe’s, and we will continue [to] do so until we complete this important work.”
“At this time, I don’t have an exact date but we expect to have the work completed very soon. Packaging for a number of the products has already been changed, but there’s a small number of products in which the packaging is still going through the process.”
Trader Joe’s is just one of many companies to recently come under fire for perpetuating racist stereotypes, sparked by the murder of George Floyd. The call to rid other food brands, like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben, of racist logos and ideologies have been pervasive over the past month.
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