Shopper calls out Trader Joe’s over controversial ‘Trader Ming’s’ label

‘I thought they were all traders that know each other and sell each other their own foods,’ viewer says

Olivia Hebert
Los Angeles
Thursday 07 December 2023 15:55 GMT
Trader Joe's to change branding after petition calls it 'racist'

A woman has called out Trader Joe’s for the names on its cultural food packaging.

In a viral TikTok video, user Kyi (@kyeatdaays) took issue with the grocery store chain’s names on cultural food products. She captured a point-of-view skit to illustrate to viewers the moment she realised that the name at the top of her frozen bag of Mandarin Orange Chicken read Trader Ming’s instead of Trader Joe’s.

The video followed her opening her freezer, pulling out the frozen chicken bits, and putting them on a baking sheet. She then preheated her oven to 405F before taking one look at the bag and realising the packaging. “Wait a damn minute,” she then mouthed.

In the overlaid text, Kyi wrote: “POV: U just found out Trader Joe’s does THIS to cultural foods.”

Since posting the video, she has garnered over 2.1m views and 150,000 likes. Viewers in the comment section voiced similar experiences, having seen names on Trader Joe’s packaged foods change if the meals or items are known for being from a specific culture. From Italian to Japanese cuisine, the grocery store chain has often named its cultural products as a reference to the respective cultures.

“For the Italian food it’s Trader Giottos,” one viewer wrote, while another added: “The soyaki says ‘Trader Joe-San.’”

“Gluten free baking mix says something like ‘Baker Josef’ lol,” someone else remarked. Others mentioned that they loved seeing beers labelled “Trader Jose” and French food items named “Trader Jacques”.

Others defended the grocery store’s naming choices, noting that they thought it was all a part of the Trader Joe’s lore. One person said: “I thought they were all traders that know each other and sell each other their own foods.”

“[Not going to lie] it’s kinda funny,” another said. “[Especially] if they do it every single one.”

However, some thought the store had planned on stopping the practice of labelling its cultural foods with the alternative names.

“I could have swore they said they were going to stop doing this … omg,” one viewer commented. The comment referred to the grocery store’s 2020 announcement it would change its branding after a petition accused the grocery chain of being “racist” with its labelling.

While the company pledged that it would implement the changes, it later changed tune, saying that it would stick with its labels rather than succumb to public pressure. At the time, Trader Joe’s said in a statement posted to its website: “We want to be clear: we disagree that any of these labels are racist.”

“We do not make decisions based on petitions,” it added, alleging that the decades-old, lighthearted efforts at inclusion were well-liked by customers. “We thought then — and still do — that this naming of products could be fun and show appreciation for other cultures.”

Briones Bedell - a high school senior in the San Francisco Bay Area when she launched the petition - was shocked at the company’s heel turn. As a frequent Trader Joe’s shopper, Bedell told the Associated Press at the time that she’d always thought that the names were offensive, but wasn’t motivated to take a stand until she read up on the company’s history.

According to the company’s website, founder Joe Coulombe came up with the store’s namesake and South Pacific decor after being inspired by the book White Shadows in the South Seas and the Disneyland Jungle Boat Cruise ride.

After seeing the book and the ride’s racist stereotypes of natives and European explorers, which was later updated by Disney, Bedell maintained that Trader Joe’s was guilty of cultural appropriation.

“It’s intended to allow the consumer to build up this perceived sophistication through their knowledge of worldliness through their choice of food,” she told the outlet. “But it’s not a cultural celebration or representation. This is exoticism. These brands are shells of the cultures they represent.”

Although Bedell received thousands of signatures on her petition, her accusations reportedly drew vitriol from both sides of the political spectrum, with conservatives lambasting her for participating in cancel culture, while liberals denounced her for wasting her time on minutiae.

The Independent has contacted Trader Joe’s for comment.

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