Last week, Trader Joe’s said that they were changing the names on the labels of some of their ethnic foods, like Trader Ming’s, Trader Jose, and Arabian Joe, after over 5,000 people signed a petition started by 17-year-old Briones Bedell, who said that the names were racist stereotypes. Well, to be a fly in a Hawaiin shirt on the wall of Trader Joe’s PR department, because they have released a statement saying that they do not make decisions based on petitions and that some of the names are staying. This is more confusing than the ingredients list on a TJ’s product.
CBS News reports that the head honchos at Trader Joe’s believe their initial statement, where they said that they were changing the product labels, were taken out of context. They tried to clear it up with this statement:
A few weeks ago, an online petition was launched calling on us to “remove racist packaging from [our] products.” Following were inaccurate reports that the petition prompted us to take action. We want to be clear: we disagree that any of these labels are racist. We do not make decisions based on petitions.
We make decisions based on what customers purchase, as well as the feedback we receive from our customers and Crew Members. If we feel there is need for change, we do not hesitate to take action.
They explained that the Buying Team came up with names as a way to pay tribute to other cultures:
Decades ago, our Buying Team started using product names, like Trader Giotto’s, Trader José’s, Trader Ming’s, etc. We thought then—and still do—that this naming of products could be fun and show appreciation for other cultures. For example, we named our Mexican beer “Trader José Premium” and a couple guacamole products are called “Avocado’s Number” in a kitschy reference to a mathematical theory. These products have been really popular with our customers, including some budding mathematicians.
TJ’s statement ends with saying that they have changed the name of some products but not because of a petition, but because they weren’t selling well anymore. And the products that do sell well are staying:
We constantly reevaluate what we are doing to ensure it makes sense for our business and aligns with customers’ expectations. A couple years ago we asked our Buying Team to review all our products to see if we needed to update any older packages, and also see if the associated brands developed years ago needed to be refreshed. We found that some of the older names or products just weren’t connecting or selling very well; so, they were discontinued. It’s kind of what we do.
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. We continue our ongoing evaluation, and those products that resonate with our customers and sell well will remain on our shelves.
Some people are confused because a rep for TJ’s initially said that they were “changing the packaging and expects to complete the process very soon.” And now they’re saying something totally different, and they didn’t say what is staying and what is not. They should just go ahead and change the name of their entire store to Trader Huh’s?.