Add Trader Joe's grocery chain to the outlets, companies and institutions pushing back against accusations of racism based on far-fetched theses.
The popular niche grocer a few weeks ago seemed to tilt toward petition-gatherers who objected to the store's private label Trader Jose, Trader Ming and other names assigned to international food products. A company spokesperson said the grocery chain was in the process of renaming them to avoid a dust-up over what might be considered offensive.
But then a reversal from the company:
"We disagree that any of these labels are racist," the company said in a statement last month. "We do not make decisions based on petitions. … Decades ago, our Buying Team started using product names, like Trader Giotto's, Trader Jose'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."
So for now, it seems, the product labels that originated from a place of inclusiveness are here to stay.
If you've shopped at Trader Joe's, you know the store offers not only its private label products under the Trader Joe's name but also a unique shopping experience. Grown from a Los Angeles-based quick-stop market, the stores are smaller and more manageable than large outlets; offer numerous experimental, foodie and organic products; and showcase employees who are knowledgeable about the items and enthusiastic about selling them.
You might toss into your grocery cart Trader Joe's onion dip, Trader Jose's Mexican lager and Trader Ming's barbecue chicken teriyaki. The company made its catchy private labels part of the shopping experience, along with "Two-Buck Chuck" wine. If you've had it, you know the headache.
But in the hypersensitive culture we're now exposed to, with the offense-O-meter always at maximum levels, the company was under pressure to change its labeling.
We're glad Trader Joe's did not. Shoppers who object to the labeling can choose to shop elsewhere. That's the beauty of the free-market experience. We suspect some will. But the loyalists who appreciate the risk-taking Trader Joe's demonstrates in its food offerings, its recipes — don't miss the breakfast sticky buns — and the low prices will bring people back.