The Real Reason Trader Joe's Is Changing Its Product Branding

It's been a season for changes, all right, but some of these changes are undoubtedly for the better, such as the recent push for brands and organizations to replace names and symbols that have been allowed to carry connotations of racism for far too long. The Land O'Lakes Butter maiden, Aunt Jemima, and Uncle Ben are all being retired or renamed, and a new name is also in store for the Washington Redskins NFL team (via ESPN) as well as a new flag for the state of Mississippi (via The Washington Post). Even Dungeons &  Dragons will be working to replace the racist stereotypes associated with some of its non-human races such as orcs and dark elves, formerly portrayed as both dark-skinned and evil-natured (via Polygon).

At long last, Trader Joe's is joining the list of companies finally willing to listen to the voice of the people, and they too will be taking a good, hard look at those not-so-cute labels for their international product lines: "Trader José," "Trader Ming's," "Trader Giotto's," "Trader Joe San," and "Arabian Joe." Trader Joe's has always tried to portray itself as a fun place to shop, but there's a huge gap between "endearingly quirky" and "blatant racism," and finally somebody called them out for being on the wrong side of that great divide.

The petition that called out Trader Joe's product names

A petition on is calling for Trader Joe's to "remove racist branding and packaging from its stores." As to why the names are considered racist, the petition goes on to explain that they portray "a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes." What's more, the petition also points out that the chain's origin story, as given on its website, gives some pretty dubious influences behind not just the name but the pseudo-South Seas décor. Rather than finding his inspiration in a midcentury tiki bar, it seems that founder Joe Coulombe created the theme from a mashup of a book called White Shadows in the South Seas (a glorification of the exploitation of the South Pacific by European trading companies) and Disneyland's Jungle Cruise (just one of the theme park's disturbingly racist rides).

Apparently Trader Joe's was already in the process of changing all of its private-label product names to Trader Joe's instead of any variants on the same. In response to the petition, however, they did issue a public apology for their ethnic stereotyping. According to a statement by spokesperson Kenya Friend-Daniel obtained by ABC News, "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."