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Trader Joe's says its branding on certain food packaging isn't racist

Brands like Trader Ming's Pad Thai and Trader Giotto's Pasta Sauce are meant to be fun and show appreciation for other cultures, the company said.
/ Source: TODAY

Trader Joe's is standing by its branding on certain international food products, ranging from pasta sauce to pad thai, despite online backlash calling some of the labels "racist."

"We want to be clear: we disagree that any of these labels are racist. We do not make decisions based on petitions," Trader Joe's said in a statement posted on its website.

More than 5,000 people signed a petition posted online at the beginning of July calling on the company to stop using brand names such as "Trader Ming's" on Chinese items, "Trader Giotto's" Italian food products and "Trader Jose's" on Mexican foods.

The “branding is racist because it exoticizes other cultures," the petition said. “It presents 'Joe' as the default 'normal' and the other characters falling outside of it."

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A previous statement issued on July 20 seemed to indicate that Trader Joe's was already in the process of renaming some of its products that had been cited as problematic.

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," spokeswoman Kenya Friend-Daniel told TODAY Food at the time.

"With this in mind, we made the decision several years ago to use only the Trader Joe’s name on our products moving forward," she said. "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 updated statement said Trader Joe's began using its its international variations of Joe "decades ago" as a fun way to brand its products and show appreciation for other cultures. While re-evaluating brands and removing items that aren't popular is a regular part of their business, Trader Joe's said it has received plenty of positive feedback from customers.

"Recently we have heard from many customers reaffirming that these name variations are largely viewed in exactly the way they were intended­—as an attempt to have fun with our product marketing," the statement said. "We continue our ongoing evaluation, and those products that resonate with our customers and sell well will remain on our shelves."