The grocery store chain says it had begun the process even before a petition started circulating online.

By Jelisa Castrodale
July 20, 2020
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Trader Joe's beer seen on the shelf in Pinecrest, Florida.
Joe Raedle / Staff/Getty Images

Update: Trader Joe's has since clarified that it will not change it's packaging. Read more here.

Earlier this month, a California high school student launched a petition, urging Trader Joe's to change the names of some of its private-label products, due to the "racist branding" found on its packaging.

"The grocery chain labels some of its ethnic foods with modifications of 'Joe' that belies a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes," Briones Bedell wrote on Change.org. "For example, 'Trader Ming’s' is used to brand the chain’s Chinese food, 'Arabian Joe' brands Middle Eastern foods, 'Trader José' brands Mexican foods, 'Trader Giotto’s' is for Italian food, and 'Trader Joe San' brands their Japanese cuisine."

By presenting its products in that manner, Bedell posited that the chain is presenting its eponymous own-brand items—which bear the "Trader Joe's" name—as "normal," while positioning its ethnic items as deviations from that norm.

"The common thread between all of these transgressions is the perpetuation of exoticism, the goal of which is not to appreciate other cultures, but to further other and distance them from the perceived 'normal,'" she writes. "The current branding, given this essential context, then becomes even more trivializing and demeaning than before."

A spokesperson for Trader Joe's has acknowledged the concerns raised in the petition, and says that the California-based chain had already started the process of re-branding those items. "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," Kenya Friend-Daniel, Trader Joe's national director of public relations, told ABC News.

Friend-Daniel said that the chain had already been "in the process" of swapping the ethnically named variations for the standard "Trader Joe's," but she did not have a date for when the new labels would start to appear on store shelves.

"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," she added. (Following Friend-Daniel's comments, Bedell told The New York Times that she still believes that Trader Joe's "lacks the urgency needed" to complete the rebrand in a timely manner.)

Trader Joe's is the latest company to reconsider the problematic names of some of its products. Last month, Quaker Oats announced that it would change the name and logo of its Aunt Jemima pancake mixes and breakfast syrups in an effort to "further evolve" its brand.

"We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype," Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America, said in a statement. “As we work to make progress toward racial equality through several initiatives, we also must take a hard look at our portfolio of brands and ensure they reflect our values and meet our consumers’ expectations."

Shortly after Quaker Oats' announcement, Mars Inc said that it was "evaluating all possibilities" around renaming and rebranding its Uncle Ben's products, while B&G Foods said that it was "launching an immediate review" of its Cream of Wheat brand, which has used the image of a Black chef known as "Rastus" for more than 100 years. Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream has also stated that it will change the name of Eskimo Pie ice cream bars, after acknowledging that "the term [Eskimo] is derogatory."