Trader Joe’s scrapped plans to abandon its ethnic food brands days after pledging to ditch them amid charges of racism.
The discount grocer says it may now keep some of the controversial names it has slapped on foreign foods for decades if they sell well enough and customers continue to appreciate them.
“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,” Trader Joe’s said in a July 24 statement posted on its website last week. “We continue our ongoing evaluation, and those products that resonate with our customers and sell well will remain on our shelves.”
The chain reversed course following the launch of a petition this month demanding that it get rid of the “racist” brand names — such as “Trader José’s” for Mexican food and “Trader Ming’s” for Chinese dishes — because they prop up ethnic stereotypes.
As the petition gained steam last week, Trader Joe’s said it was already working to phase out the names after deciding several years ago to only use its eponymous brand. The company also acknowledged that the names may have had an effect “contrary to the welcoming, rewarding customer experience we strive to create every day.”
The chain’s latest statement aimed to clear up “inaccurate reports” that the petition prompted the review. The company said it “disagree[d] that any of these labels are racist” and that it only retired some of them because they “just weren’t connecting or selling very well.”
“Over the years, customer feedback on some products has consisted of a number of things, including that some product names were considered to be insensitive or caused some confusion,” Trader Joe’s spokeswoman Kenya Friend-Daniel told The Post in an email Friday.
“As for the remaining products with name variations of the Trader Joe’s brand, we are continuing to evaluate them and if they resonate with customers, they’ll remain on store shelves,” she added. “If they don’t, changes will be made.”
Briones Bedell, the high school senior behind the petition, said the company’s about-face created confusion about how or whether it will change its ethnic food packaging.
“Given the contradictory nature of these statements, we ask that Trader Joe’s clarify which ethnically branded products will be modified,” Bedell wrote in a Wednesday addendum to the petition, which had more than 5,100 signatures as of early Friday afternoon.
Trader Joe’s did not specify which ethnic brands have been retired and which are still in use. The company expects its evaluation of the remaining products to be done “soon,” Friend-Daniel said.