Shoppers line up to enter the new Trader Joe’s store in Boulder, Colorado February 14, 2014. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

Although Trader Joe’s has made plans to change the branding of some of its ethnic food packaging, the grocer has recently disagreed with a petition that any of the names are racist. The company said in a new statement, “We do not make decisions based on petitions. […] If we feel there is need for change, we do not hesitate to take action.” The statement noted that in recent weeks, many customers had “reaffirm[ed] that these name variations are largely viewed in exactly the way they were intended­—as an attempt to have fun with our product marketing.”

Creators of the petition are looking for clarity on the new statement as the company doubles down on the product names. Meanwhile, conservative publications lauded the reversal as a rebuttal against “cancel culture.”

The petition on Change.com, which started on July 17, called for Trader Joe’s to remove branding that “belies a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes.” Briones Bedell, the 17-year-old who started the petition, said, “They’re racist because they exoticize other cultures, present ‘Joe’ as this default normal, and then the other characters falling outside of it.” Trader Joe’s initially responded to the petition by committing to remove the labeling. The company had decided several years ago to label their products simply as “Trader Joe’s,” but no significant changes have been made yet.

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

Trader Joe’s Now Says It Won’t Remove Stereotypical Branding from International Foods – Food & Wine – 7/31/2020
A spokesperson for the specialty chain said that it was already in the process of rebranding some of those items as simply ‘Trader Joe’s.” “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,” Kenya Friend-Daniel, Trader Joe’s national director of public relations, said, before adding that changing these labels was “important work.” But in a whiplash-inducing redirect, Trader Joe’s has since said that it would not be changing any of those product names and, on top of that, the chain says that it no longer has a problem with those items at all.

Trader Joe’s Reverses Decision To Change ‘Racist’ International Food Names, Announces It Is Beholden To Customers, Not Petitions – The Daily Caller – 7/30/2020
After a petition demanding grocery chain Trader Joe’s remove its international product labels for being “racist,” the company said in a statement that it answers to customers, not petitions. The company initially responded to the petition and other calls to change its packaging by saying it was in the process of rebranding the products in question, but later stated on their website that the reports were inaccurate and that they “do not make decisions based on petitions.”

Trader Joe’s says product labels targeted by petition aren’t racist – SFGate – 7/30/2020
Following some criticism from a petition deeming product names as “racist” a few weeks ago, Trader Joe’s has since offered some insight into its product-naming process, stating that it disagreed with the claim that its products should be construed as racist. […] The company went on to explain that it “constantly reevaluate[s]” its products in order to “ensure it makes sense for our business and aligns with customers’ expectations.” In a product evaluation two years ago, the company stated it had made the decision to discontinue items and product names that weren’t connecting with customers or did not sell well.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

Cathy Erway on Twitter, 7/20/2020 The recent petition was not the first time Trader Joe’s heard these concerns. Seems like they chose to quietly, slowly change their branding without acknowledging why.

(((Yair Rosenberg))) on Twitter, 7/30/2020: Trader Joe’s is correct that their packaging was not racist, and good on them for saying so. Most folks agree with them. It’s a discredit to media outlets that a tiny online petition put out by a white high schooler claiming otherwise was even reported on in the first place.

Joseph Lichterman on Twitter, 7/20/2020: tbh I would buy any Trader Joe’s product that said Trader Yossi’s, but this is 100% the right thing to do

Yascha Mounk on Twitter, 7/30/2020: Civis Analytics fired an employee in a self-serving attempt at looking virtuous and got condemned by virtually everyone. Trader Joe’s publicly refused to bow to a silly petition about its product names and got tons of online praise. I really hope PR professionals take note.

San Francisco Chronicle on Twitter, 7/27/2020: Last week, @Hooleil spoke with Briones Bedell, an East Bay high schooler who penned a petition asking Trader Joe’s to reconsider the branding of some of its “ethnic” food items as well as its stated tie to the 1919 book, “White Shadows in the South Seas.”

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