Business

Trader Joe's to drop product names deemed racist

Trader Joe's products labeled Trader Jose's and Trader Ming's, which have been criticized as racist, will get a name cha
Trader Joe’s products labeled Trader Jose’s and Trader Ming’s, which have been criticized as racist, will get a name change, the company says. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Grocery chain Trader Joe’s has responded to criticisms about its packaging by announcing that it is in the process of eliminating labels that use ethnic-sounding names intended to be humorous.

The offending products bear such labels as Trader Ming’s for foods and condiments related to Chinese cuisine, Trader Jose’s for Mexican-style products and Trader Giotto’s for Italian-themed items.

The company has come under fire in part from a petition, posted for about two weeks, on the Change.org website. It had collected more than 2,000 signatures by Sunday night.

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IOWA CITY - African American stereotypes have been used to sell food, cleaning products and other household goods for more than a century, with some of the most successful brands - including Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben's - remaining on grocery store shelves until recent pressure from the Black Lives Matter movement.

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The labels, which offer variations of the Trader Joe’s name, exploit “a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes,” according to the petition.

The attention on Trader Joe’s comes amid a nationwide reconsideration of branding that has accompanied the Black Lives Matter movement.

Land O’Lakes has removed a Native American woman from its products.

Meanwhile, the images of Black men and women on product lines such as Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s and Mrs. Butterworth are in for a makeover, if they survive at all.

The Eskimo Pie name also is becoming history.

The Monrovia, Calif.-based chain operates stores in Coralville and West Des Moines.

“The Trader Joe’s branding is racist because it exoticizes other cultures — it presents ‘Joe’ as the default ‘normal’ and the other characters falling outside of it — they are ‘Arabian Joe,’ ‘Trader Jose’ and ‘Trader Joe San,’” the petition says.

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The company said in a statement that it decided several years ago to use only the Trader Joe’s name on its products and has been in the process of updating the ethnic-sounding labels.

Packaging for a number of the products already has been changed, and the company expects to complete the process “very soon,” she said.

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