Adios, Trader Jose. You've been canceled

The latest corporate victim of cancel culture is Trader Joe’s. This time the complaint centers around racist packaging. Trader Joe’s products don’t have photo images that are offending the grocery chain’s more delicate customers but the wording on the labels of ethnic food products is being canceled.


Trader Joe’s prides itself on providing a relaxed, fun kind of shopping experience. The labels on many of its products are designed to be quirky. One of the ways the company promoted ethnic food products was by turning the Trader Joe name into a generic name of a different culture, like Trader Jose or Trader Ming. It’s a marketing gimmick. This is 2020, though, and the cancel culture mobs run our lives. The grocery chain is changing its packaging on international cuisine.

A California high school student started an online petition calling for the change. With only 1,400 names on the petition, the company is making news for caving to the demands of a few. Let’s be honest, 1,400 names on an online petition is a really small number of people these days, especially for one that criticizes a national grocery store chain. Trader Joe’s, however, says the company was already in the process of changing its labels for ethnic food products, long before the petition was created. As a matter of fact, the company claims the change was happening “long before” the petition made the news.

“We have been in the process of updating older labels and replacing any variations with the name Trader Joe’s, and we will continue to do so until we complete this important work,” Friend-Daniel said. “At this time, I don’t have an exact date but we expect to have the work completed very soon. Packaging for a number of the products has already been changed, but there’s a small number of products in which the packaging is still going through the process.”

Trader Joe’s packages its Chinese, Mexican, Italian and Middle Eastern foods under the brands “Trader Ming’s,” “Trader Jose” “Trader Giotto” and “Arabian Joe.”


The national public relations person for Trader Joe’s says the change has been ongoing for several years. If so, it seems like a long time for label changes, right?

“With this in mind, we made the decision several years ago to use only the Trader Joe’s name on our products moving forward,” Kenya Friend-Daniel, Trader Joe’s national director of public relations, told USA TODAY in a statement Saturday. “Since then, we have been in the process of updating older labels and replacing any variations with the name Trader Joe’s, and we will continue do so until we complete this important work.”

An exact date for when the products’ packaging would be changed wasn’t known but was expected very soon, Friend-Daniel said in the statement, adding some products have already been changed.

The student who created the petition isn’t satisfied with the corporate response. This is my shocked face. That is what always happens. When a company or individuals cave to the cancel culture mob, no matter how small that mob may be, it is never enough. Appeasement never satisfies them. The discontented voices jump on the weakness of appeasement and demand more. That is what is happening in this case, too. The student claims that the wording on labels “belies a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes.” The student brings the drama.

After Trader Joe’s statement that the labeling would be changed, Bedell wrote that the company should “commit to a date in which the packaging changes will be completed. If a date cannot be established, we ask that Trader Joe’s immediately remove all products that the company recognizes have not been inclusive and have not cultivated a welcoming, rewarding customer experience.”


In one part of the company’s statement, Bedell’s words – “a welcoming, rewarding customer experience” – are actually used as an explanation is offered. The labeling is part of the corporation’s whimsical approach to marketing. “Exoticism” seems like an overreach.

“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, a spokesperson for Trader Joe’s, said in a statement.

Trader Joe’s is one of America’s most popular grocery store chains. The high school student thinks this is an urgent matter. To her, just emptying out the store shelves and not offering products with those labels on them is a reasonable demand. My eyes can not roll any farther back. Perhaps in San Francisco, where she lives, this is a normal reaction, but not to most areas of the country. If this is the biggest problem in her life, she has a pretty darn good life. All these years that Trader Joe’s has been operating, only now it is unacceptable?

Ms. Bedell, a rising high school senior and human rights activist, said “the branding remains on shelves and unaddressed” at her local Trader Joe’s in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“There’s an abundance of products in their stores, and I think it’s still important — the petition remains important — because Trader Joe’s lacks the urgency needed in the current climate to remedy the issue,” she said.


The reason Trader Joe’s is a popular grocery store chain is that its stores are clean, the employees are friendly and helpful, and the stores do, in fact, offer a pleasant shopping experience. At least that has been my experience. I doubt that I am alone in not even particularly noticing the “exoticism” in the labeling and I definitely never thought the store is trying to use inappropriate cultural stereotyping. Grocery shopping can be tedious, most of us are happy that some retailers are interested in putting a little fun into it.

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