An Online Petition Asks Trader Joe’s to Eliminate Racist Packaging

updated Jul 20, 2020
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Trader Joe’s makes a big show of listening to its customers, whether in regards to customer safety or reading the general room on what the public wants. But now customers around the United States are putting that to the test by asking the beloved company to make a big change in how they package many of their foods: removing the re-interpretations of Trader Joe for foods the company considers foreign. That means Trader José, Trader Ming, and Trader Giotto might be on the way out.

“The grocery chain labels some of its ethnic foods with modifications of ‘Joe’ that belies a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes,” explains the petition started by Briones Bedell and signed by more than 2,600 people. The petition delves into the underlying stereotypes upon which the entire store was built, including that the reason employees wear tropical shirts is because they are “traders on the culinary seas,” an implied connection to colonial-era exploitation around the world. 

This is hardly the first time Trader Joe’s has received pushback about such things, and this type of othering language in particular. In an article on Kitchn last year, we explained how the company’s inconsistent use of the term “authentic” (similar to what the various “Joe” incarnations are meant to represent) traffics in a harmful idea of purity and correctness. Later last year, the stores also bowed to PETA’s demands to remove circus imagery from products.

Bedell, a high school senior in California, has received an initial statement from a company representative in response to the petition, which acknowledged that the naming convention may be “contrary to the welcoming, rewarding customer experience we strive to create every day.” Further, the company representative says that they had decided not to continue it many years ago, and are in the process of updating older labels, but Bedell hopes to speed up the process, telling the New York Times that the company “lacks the urgency needed in the current climate to remedy the issue.”