Trader Joe’s takes stand

Trader Joe’s deserves credit for a measured response and a refusal to capitulate to online pressure.

The Editorial Board
Tue, 11 Aug 2020 04:00:00 GMT

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Three cheers for Trader Joe’s for not bowing to online pressure over its product labeling.

The grocery chain has marketed some of its offerings under the auspices of Trader José, and Trader Giotto’s, Trader Ming’s, and the like for decades. Earlier this month a petition began circulating calling on the company to rebrand on account of its “racist” roots, arguing that “it exoticizes other cultures — it presents “Joe” as the default ‘normal’ and the other characters falling outside of it.”

The petition has garnered just more than 5,000 signatures as of July 31.

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Trader Joe’s has responded with a statement refuting the accusation of racism, explaining that the product naming is decades-old and intended to celebrate and show appreciation for other cultures: “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 is reasonable, firm, and commendable.

In recent months, various food companies have discontinued branding that perpetuates racial stereotypes ranging from Quaker Oats retiring the Aunt Jemima brand to Land O’Lakes butter removing the image of a Native American woman from its packaging.

While some such stereotypes are potentially harmful for their connotations, they should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Trader Joe’s is not exploiting other cultures for profit, nor is it poking fun. And despite the grumbling of the Internet petition, which despite its limited support still merited a full write-up in The New York Times, the company claims the products continue to sell well.

“We continue our ongoing evaluation, and those products that resonate with our customers and sell well will remain on our shelves,” the company said in its statement.

Cancel culture, often directed by the whims of social media, is very real. Companies should welcome conversations about marketing stereotypes and potentially harmful representation, but who is being hurt by what is, at worst, tongue-in-cheek marketing?

Trader Joe’s deserves credit for a measured response and a refusal to capitulate to online pressure. These are tense times, and there are plenty of lessons to be learned. But it’s good to see a company stand up for itself.