KEY POINTS

  • Nearly 2,500 people have signed an online petition demanding Trader Joe's change labeling for international products because they promote "harmful stereotypes"
  • The petition's author cites the inspiration the book "White Shadows in the South Seas" and Disneyland's Jungle Cruise ride for Trader Joe's founder Joe Coulombe
  • Trader Joe's had begun changing some product names and labeling in response to the Black Lives Matter protests

An online petition has nearly 2,500 signatures demanding Trader Joe’s change the labeling of international food products. The petition cites branding such as “Trader Ming’s” and “Trader Giotto’s” as examples that promote racist stereotypes.

“The grocery chain labels some of its ethnic foods with modifications of “Joe” that belies a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes,” the petition’s creator, Briones Bedell, said on its Change.org page. “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.”

Bedell cites the inspiration the book “White Shadows in the South Seas” and the Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise ride played for Trader Joe’s founder Joe Coulombe in building the company.

“To this day, Trader Joe’s Crew Members consider themselves 'traders on the culinary seas' and are known for their bright, tropical-patterned shirts,” Trader Joe’s website says.

However, Bedell argues the book and ride help to “normalize” the ideas of the “white god” or “white savior” and the “noble savages.” 

“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.' The current branding, given this essential context, then becomes even more trivializing and demeaning than before. What at first seems, at worst, insensitive, further is called into question,” Bedell said.

Trader Joe’s pushed back on these accusations but affirmed they had already begun changing product names and labels in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests.

“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,” Trader Joe’s spokesperson Kenya Friend-Daniel said in a press release. “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 A Trader Joe's in Boulder, Colorado, on Feb. 14, 2014. Photo: REUTERS/Rick Wilking