Trader Joe's says it will rebrand certain food packaging petition has deemed 'racist'

The popular grocery store chain said it is working on updating the controversial product packaging.
Trader Joe's store in Princeton, New Jersey
PRINCETON, NJ, UNITED STATES - 2018/08/14: Trader Joe's store in Princeton, New Jersey.Michael Brochstein / Getty Images

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/ Source: TODAY
By Maura Hohman

Trader Joe's will soon join the ranks of numerous other companies that have recently announced changes to product packaging that has been criticized for being racist or offensive.

Two weeks ago, an online petition launched calling on the popular grocery store chain to "remove" the labels on some of its "ethnic foods." Examples the petition cited include "Trader Ming's" on Chinese items, "Arabian Joe's" on Middle Eastern food products and "Trader Jose's" on Mexican foods.

These "modifications of Joe ... (belie) a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes," the petition explained. "The Trader Joe’s branding is racist because it ... presents 'Joe' as the default 'normal' and the other characters falling outside of it."

By Monday morning, the petition had been signed by more than 2,250 people, just 250 signatures away from its original goal.

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When reached via email, Trader Joe's spokeswoman Kenya Friend-Daniel told TODAY Food that before the petition was made public, the company was already working on rebranding several products that had previously been cited as problematic.

"To be clear, our efforts are not a response to the petition and began before the petition was launched. We had hoped that the work would be complete by now, but there are still a small number of products going through the packaging change and we expect to be done very soon," she said.

Friend-Daniel added that the original names on certain foods "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. With this in mind, we made the decision several years ago to use only the Trader Joe’s name on our products moving forward. Since then, we have been in the process of updating older labels and replacing any variations with the name Trader Joe’s, and we will continue to do so until we complete this very important work."

The petition comes on the heels of numerous food manufacturers revising their branding, prompted by global protests over racial injustice after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

Quaker Oats announced in mid-June that it will replace and rename its breakfast brand Aunt Jemima, citing its origins based on a "racist stereotype." Shortly after, the makers of Uncle Ben's rice said they were planning a "brand evolution" in an effort to put an end to "racial bias." The company behind breakfast cereal Cream of Wheat also said it would conduct an "immediate review" of its branding, which has featured a smiling Black chef for decades.