Trader Joe’s Defends Product Labels Criticized as Racist

Weeks after admitting that some of its international-themed product labels might have fallen short of an “attempt at inclusiveness,” the grocery store chain Trader Joe’s is rejecting criticism of the labels — some with names like Trader José and Trader Ming’s — as racist.

After an online petition denounced the company’s use of labels such as Arabian Joe’s, Trader Giotto’s and Trader Joe San as racist because it “exoticizes other cultures,” Trader Joe’s announced that it would keep names that it felt still resonated with customers.

“We disagree that any of these labels are racist,” the company said in a statement on July 24. “We do not make decisions based on petitions.”

“We thought then — and still do — that this naming of products could be fun and show appreciation for other cultures,” it said.

Earlier in July, however, Kenya Friend-Daniel, the company’s national director of public relations, said the company was in the process of updating labels to bear only the Trader Joe’s name.

“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,” the spokeswoman said in a statement on July 19. “With this in mind, we made the decision several years ago to use only the Trader Joe’s name on our products moving forward.”

On Saturday, she said that she had been referring to new products that the company introduced after 2017, not products that existed before then.

“We will continue to evaluate our products, as we always do, and if certain products/product packaging are not resonating well, changes will be made,” Ms. Friend-Daniel said.

Asked about the status of other product labels, Ms. Friend-Daniel said that “for the remaining products, we will change packages or discontinue products that do not resonate” with customers.

“If their consumers are suddenly up in arms and saying, ‘You know what, we’re not going to shop Trader Joe’s unless you change,’ then, like any sensible marketer, they’re going to look at that and say, ‘Well, when it starts to impact our bottom line, that’s when we may have to make a change,’” Mr. Galvani said.

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