Would somebody give me a damned list already of what isn’t offensive?
When Trader Joe’s founder Joe Coulombe died earlier this year, he was hailed as a marketing whiz, a retail visionary. He had opened a small, nautical-themed market in South Pasadena in 1967 and watched it grow into an empire of nearly 500 stores nationwide.
But today that empire, known for its trading-post motif and international product lines, has come under attack for its branding of ethnic foods. The names Trader Ming’s, Arabian Joe’s, Trader Jose’s, Trader Giotto’s and Trader Joe San appear on items such as habañero and lime salsa, gyoza dipping sauce and artichoke antipasto.
The popular Southern California institution has created “a narrative of exoticism,” according to an online petition posted about two weeks ago calling for Trader Joe’s to remove and rebrand a variety of products with “racist” labeling.
“The Trader Joe’s branding is racist because it exoticizes other cultures — it presents ‘Joe’ as the default ‘normal’ and the other characters falling outside of it.”Briones Bedell
17 Year Old
In a statement, Trader Joe’s — which Coulombe sold in 1979 to German supermarket chain Aldi — acknowledged that its approach to product naming, “rooted in a lighthearted attempt at inclusiveness … may now have the opposite effect.” A spokeswoman said the company is changing the packaging and expects to complete the process “very soon.”
What once was considered successful marketing has been shaken by a cultural moment that took hold in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
Trader Joe’s had famously thrived on the presumption that all’s fair in the name of free enterprise and commerce, and consumers responded, drawn to its quirky themes and budget pricing.
But over the last few months, public spaces have lost statues, buildings have been stripped of names, and now consumer products are having a day of reckoning amid a nationwide reconsideration of once popularly accepted precepts.