Weeks after admitting that some of its international-themed product labels might have fallen short of an “attempt at inclusiveness,” the grocery store chain Trader Joe’s is rejecting criticism of the labels — some with names like Trader José and Trader Ming’s — as racist.
“We will continue to evaluate our products, as we always do, and if certain products/product packaging are not resonating well, changes will be made,” Kenya Friend-Daniel, the company’s national director of public relations, said in an email Saturday.
After an online petition denounced the company’s use of labels such as Arabian Joe’s, Trader Giotto’s and Trader Joe San as racist because it “exoticizes other cultures,” Trader Joe’s announced that it would keep names that it felt still resonated with customers.
“We disagree that any of these labels are racist,” the company said in a statement July 24. “We do not make decisions based on petitions.”
Earlier that month, however, Friend-Daniel said the company was in the process of updating labels to bear only the Trader Joe’s name.
“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,” the spokeswoman said in a statement July 19. “With this in mind, we made the decision several years ago to use only the Trader Joe’s name on our products moving forward.”
On Saturday, she said that she had been referring to products that the company had introduced after 2017.
Asked about the status of other product labels, Friend-Daniel said Saturday that “for the remaining products, we will change packages or discontinue products that do not resonate” with customers.
Recently, major food companies have committed to re-examining their use of racist imagery after nationwide protests over police brutality. Quaker Oats said in June it would retire the Aunt Jemima name and image. Mars Foods followed suit hours later, saying it would “evolve” the Uncle Ben’s rice brand.