Controversial International Branding
In 1977, the company began introducing international-sounding variants of its brand for some of its private label ethnic food items, such as "Trader José," "Trader Joe San," and "Trader Giotto" for Mexican, Japanese, and Italian products. The company also referenced other cultures with branding like "Trader Mings," "Arabian Joe's," and "Pilgrim Joe" for Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Thanksgiving-themed American products. In July 2020, following the killing of George Floyd and the ensuing nation-wide protests, an online petition signed by 5300 people asked the company to rename these products, criticized their labeling as "racist" and accused the company of promoting "a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes."
The company reacted by stating that it was already in the process of reverting a number of international foods back to Trader Joe's branding (e.g., "Arabian Joe's" and "Armenian Joe's"), stressing that this decision had already been made several years earlier. Trader Joe's later clarified that the other branding referenced in the petition will remain, stating: "We disagree that any of these labels are racist. We do not make decisions based on petitions," and "Moving forward, we will continue to evaluate those products with name variations that remain in our stores... If we find certain product names and-or products are not resonating with customers, we won’t hesitate to make changes." According to the company, the branding is a lighthearted attempt with the purpose to "be fun and show appreciation for other cultures." The petition itself has been criticized on social media for promoting cancel culture and for "wasting" attention on "trivial matters."