Et tu, L. A. Times? Trader Joe’s decision to keep brand names is touted as “breaking your heart”

As I reported recently, Trader Joe’s grocery emporium has been accused of racism for using names like “Trader Ming’s” for its Southeast Asian foods, “Trader Giotto’s” for Italian foods, and “Trader José’s” for Mexican food and drink. There’s apparently also a “Baker Josef’s” line of baked goods, like pretzels, imported from Germany. The company first agreed to ditch those names, but then reversed course and said it was keeping them.

When I added a readers’ poll asking you to weigh in on whether the company should ditch these names, the results (below) were heavily in favor of keeping the names, with many readers saying the equivalent of “lighten up” in the comments. I think I agree now, as I can’t see anything damaging to people with these names. It’s not like Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix or syrup, which had an old-time Mammy stereotype as a symbol. Seriously, if you think buying “Trader Jose’s Cerveza” is a racist stereotype, and call it to the attention of the company, you probably have too much time on your hands.

So the company’s decision not to truckle to the Woke was a welcome but rare instance of fighting back against social-justice mobbery. Some, however, have not taken this reversal well. One is the Los Angeles Times, whose business writer penned a whole article about how Trader Joe’s product names can “break your heart” (click on screenshot to read if it’s not paywalled).

The weird thing about the article is that it interviews three people, only one of whom is opposed to the “racist” names—yet the headline implies that hearts are being broken throughout the U.S. Further, the paper took a poll:

More than 80 of the 100-plus readers who responded to The Times’ call for opinions said the labels would not change their feelings about Trader Joe’s or its products. Several said that the controversy was overblown, that the labels were simply part of the chain’s whimsical brand or that the packaging paid proper tribute to cultures.

No hearts broken there! And the author of the article even concludes that “the controversy isn’t expect to cause the chain lasting damage.” So why the weaselly headline, which appears to be some editor’s or author’s opinion that isn’t reflected in the story itself?

Here’s the one offended person:

“The packaging is just the bottom of the barrel, the low-hanging fruit” that’s easy to change, said Huerta, a 30-year-old transportation planner from El Monte. “This is really a time where companies need to reflect on what their goal is in this movement and how they can push forward racial justice in their day-to-day operations.”

Grania used to tell me, when we were discussing campaigns like this, that I should judge their value by asking myself, “If the offended got their way, would things change for the better?” And in this case I can’t see that it would. If “Trader Ming’s pork dumplings” become “Trader Joe’s Pork dumplings”, will racial equity be advanced? Have people confected stereotypes of Asians based on that name? I can’t imagine they have.

One person even liked the German name, though she was a German immigrant, but she was careful to qualify her words:

As a German immigrant, Roswitha Koeper, 32, said she liked seeing bread products and pretzels imported from Germany on Trader Joe’s shelves, some of which were branded “Baker Josef’s” — though she emphasized that her experience as a white German immigrant was very different from the experiences of people of color.

“It always kind of makes me happy to see that [Baker Josef’s label] because for me … that means that they just went out of their way to see where this product comes from,” she said.

Now I don’t read the L.A. Times as it’s always paywalled, and three subscriptions (WaPo, NYT and Andrew Sullivan’s Dish) are enough for me. Is it just as woke as those first two newspapers? If not, then some editor, or the author, slipped in an ideological statement in a report whose contents contradict the headline. Broken hearts, indeed!

 

h/t: Paul

 

52 Comments

  1. Louis Valella
    Posted August 5, 2020 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Andrew Sullivan’s Dish stopped in 2015.
    http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/

    • Posted August 5, 2020 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      Are you aware that he resumed it in the form of a Weekly Dish?

      • Louis Valella
        Posted August 5, 2020 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

        Was not aware. My favorite description of his New York Magazine column:
        “Weird that Andrew Sullivan’s editors keep giving him 2300 words when he clearly only wants 14.”

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted August 5, 2020 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

          The 14-word reference intended to ascribe to Andrew Sullivan support for the white-supremacist slogan?

          • Louis Valella
            Posted August 6, 2020 at 8:21 am | Permalink

            There are so many things that point that way. Just two recent cases.

            -His bizarre campaign asking a NY Times editor to give him evidence that Black men don’t have larger sex organs than other men. https://www.politicalorphans.com/racism-makes-you-a-dick-a-story-about-penis-size/

            -‘What Democrats can learn from Steve Bannon’ at NYMag, where he suggests that if Democrats added the nationalism of Steve Bannon to leftist economic policies, they’d be an unbeatable party.

            I did subscribe to his Daily Dish in the early/mid 2010s. He was smart, and gay and I liked the curated links. I ignored his crazy stuff (Ex. He repeatedly claimed Sarah Palin had a baby during her vice-presidential run. What!?) and his ‘race realism’ was less prominent then as he was an Obama supporter. I my defense, I was newly out and was ignoring a lot of odd views because they came from a fellow gay man.

            • chrism
              Posted August 7, 2020 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

              And it’s still disgusting. You should be ashamed.

        • danstarfish
          Posted August 6, 2020 at 3:12 am | Permalink

          Slander is definitely not one of my favorite things.

        • chrism
          Posted August 6, 2020 at 5:29 am | Permalink

          Disgusting.

  2. Posted August 5, 2020 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    I do subscribe the LA Times as it is my local paper and that allowed me to comment on this terrible article. I’ve gotten two replies both of which support my position and 22 likes. Here’s what I said:

    I get the distinct feeling from reading this article that the survey of readers showed that most support Trader Joe’s ethnic product naming scheme and, more importantly, don’t think the names are at all racist but the author and/or the editor wanted to avoid telling that to LA Times readers. Perhaps they think the names are racist. My guess is that TJ’s got a huge response from their customers that the names aren’t racist and encouraging them to not back down in this fight. How do I know this? Well, if you are going to survey readers, one would expect to hear the result: a general thumbs up or thumbs down on the basic issue. But we didn’t get it. I think I know why.

    This Woke stuff is a phase that our society is going through. It attempts to be anti-racist by being divisive and, well, racist. It is not going to make progress against racism because it alienates its allies in favor of false virtue signalling. Trader Joe’s products and their names celebrate other cultures and cuisines. There’s nothing negative about being a trader or being named “Jacques”. And as to it being cultural appropriation, the whole world has always borrowed from other cultures. Do we have to forgo pizza now in order to be anti-racist? I don’t think so and neither do most of your readers.

    • Posted August 5, 2020 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      Nicely done, sir. Perhaps Jerry would give you permission to send his poll’s results to the editor? Show them how a poll conducted should be presented to the public?

      • Posted August 6, 2020 at 4:34 am | Permalink

        Would he need Jerry’s permission to send a link to this article which discusses the results?

    • Posted August 5, 2020 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

      Well said!

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 5, 2020 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    If you are looking under every rock for racism then you will probably find it. That is what the newspaper is doing. Just as the New York Times discovered writers who were willing to begin slavery in this country in 1619. They could just as well take it back to 1492 when Columbus was running around the warm Atlantic searching for gold. Everywhere he went the question was – Where is the gold. Many of the locals were captured and put to work looking for gold. Presto, slavery.

    • C.
      Posted August 5, 2020 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      Oh, that it explains everything! I have spent my life from childhood looking under rocks for bugs, worms, and snakes! Whew! Who knows how many close calls I might have had, I could have found racism instead! 😳

      Jokes aside, you’re absolutely correct. I usually use the old “when the only tool you have is a hammer…” because they’re all tools just bashing away at everything that moves and a lot of things that don’t. I think one would be hard pressed to find any culture anywhere on the globe that didn’t practice slavery at one time or another. Humans are horrible, to ourselves and other species, it’s merely a matter of how/when you frame it.

  4. Steve Gerrard
    Posted August 5, 2020 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    I was pleased to see that the LA Times readers basically agreed with the WEIT readers. Then I read the description again:

    “More than 80 of the 100-plus readers” sounds like about 80%, but in fact is an unusual way of phrasing a result like this. Since the number of readers is 100-plus, the 80 are less than 80%, and could be way less. If the plus was 60, for a total of 160 readers, the 80 would be 50%. Possibly very deceptive!

    • eric
      Posted August 5, 2020 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      OTOH, “hundred plus” may be their way of deceiving you into thinking their survey included more people than it actually did. “Hundred plus” may have you thinking 150, when 101 counts.

      • Filippo
        Posted August 5, 2020 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

        ‘“Hundred plus” may have you thinking 150, when 101 counts.’

        I’m reminded how media outlets will employ locutions like:

        “Days have passed.”
        “Just days ago.”

        Which “spin” they use depends on the reporter’s/editor’s view of the given situation. Sometimes I wonder if it is agin their religion to give a specific number of days. “Days” can be as little as two. (Some may hold that any number fractionally >1 but <2 qualifies as "days." I would say "less than two days," which of course can be any n, where 0<n<2.) Same with amounts of money. ("Tens of)millions (or billions)" doesn't cut it for me.

        Also, many times media outlets will report the cost of something over a ten-year period. Why? It seems arbitrary and hype. Let's say the cost is $1.6B. For one year it is $0.16B, or $160M. Why not make it 20 years (or more) and impose that much more hype?

        I perceive that a media outlet will use this locution when reporting a tax cut, or a federal aid cut, or a defense spending increase, all of which it disapproves. If instead the first two are increased and the third decreased, the outlet presumably approves (assuming it doesn't want to maintain the status quo – no incr. or decr.) and won't indulge in that locution.

        • Steve Gerrard
          Posted August 5, 2020 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

          The 10 year interval for US budget and tax projections is ridiculous. No president is in office that long; no house or senate serves that long. No matter what, before 10 years have past, some new bill or executive order will affect the budget, making that original 10 year projection completely irrelevant.

          • eric
            Posted August 5, 2020 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

            I believe it might be a congressional requirement that the executive branch or OMB analyze costs out to 10 years.

            While it seems silly to create a new 10-year plan every year, I think it can be helpful. In the middle years of an administration it can be used to make the annual budget build more efficient, and I believe (but am not sure) that in some years, some continuing resolutions have had language in them which allowed some spending to be shifted to ‘new’ programs, if it was planned for.

  5. Historian
    Posted August 5, 2020 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    At the Atlantic site, John McWhorter defends Trader Joe’s. His most important point is that “to pretend that self-described anti-racist demands must be automatically adjudged authoritative is to give in to a kind of reign of terror.”

    https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/08/trader-joes-knows-petitions-arent-commandments/614950/

    • chrism
      Posted August 6, 2020 at 5:29 am | Permalink

      Anybody remember the good old days, when to be found guilty of a crime you needed to have committed the guilty act while in possession of a guilty mind? You knew it was wrong, or should have known it was wrong, or didn’t care whether it was wrong or not. In the new courts of social justice, however, the doctrine is that “intent isn’t magic” (which I spent some time puzzling over when I first came across it at Pharyngula when the place was in early derailment; the statement makes little sense when chanted repeatedly, which is how these new doctrines are transmitted). Well, I’m old fashioned enough that intent does matter to me. Does Trader Joe’s intend to demean, ridicule or otherwise harm anyone by these brands? If we think so, can we say there is any harm beyond that caused to the community that “Joe” would stand in for? If Trader Ming or Trader José are offensive, are they more so than Trader Joe itself? That goes to motivation, perhaps humour rather than spitefulness.
      All in all, it saddens me that people can’t think of more important things to get exercised about. If comfortable, spoiled, entitled – dare I say, privileged? – SJWs think this is a worthwhile cause I could introduce them to some far more dangerous issues, maybe some actual real starving people. Of course, they would no longer be able to feel vastly superior to their immediate neighbours whose lives they enjoy eroding with their microcriticisms, but they might save a life or two.

  6. Filippo
    Posted August 5, 2020 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    The LA Times didn’t seem to have much concern about “breaking hearts” when it published California public school teachers’ “value-added” ratings some years ago. (One teacher committed suicide.)

    dianeravitch.net/2018/08/10/los-angeles-what-happened-after-the-los-angeles-times-published-the-test-based-ratings-of-thousands-of-teachers/

  7. Posted August 5, 2020 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    There are now something like 48 comments to the LA Times article. An overwhelming majority of these are in support of TJ’s decision and against Wokeness. Only one suggested the product names should be changed. A couple said they would buy TJ’s products and didn’t care what they called them. Quite a few were against TJs because they are evidently non-union, unlike most supermarkets.

    • Posted August 5, 2020 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      TJ’s may not be union but by most reports it is a good place to work. Employees are paid well, good benefits, and flexible hours. It is not easy to get a job there because turnover is low. So why does it matter to people that it’s not union?

      • Posted August 5, 2020 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        I imagine it is a knee-jerk reaction. Most on the Left think unions are an unalloyed good but I’ve found they are a definite mixed bag. Police unions have come under fire recently and for good reason. My father was in the electrical workers union and was always complaining about them not doing enough for their dues.

        My own distaste for unions began when my company displayed its products at big trade shows. They are unionized in most cities, especially in the East. The unions were awful, charging $45 just to move a potted plant from one side of our booth to the other or to clean fingerprints off computer monitors. If you did it yourself, someone swooped in and wrote you up. If you ignored them, they would briefly disconnect your power during the show, causing all our computers to reboot in the middle of demos.

        If you ever had a vision of the country as an efficient, well-oiled machine, it was ruined by seeing how business had to be done at trade shows. My guess is that this structural inefficiency is present in all heavily unionized sectors of the economy: shipping comes to mind. I realize that unions do good things too but I fear that the bad they do goes unrecognized by most people.

        • Laurance
          Posted August 5, 2020 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

          Wow, Mr. Topping! A blast from the past! You reminded me of the time years ago when my then-husband and I were at a show on Long Island where there was a union. The union workers were killing time and not working. A man picked up a screwdriver and said, “I’ll do it myself.”

          Well! The union people said, “If you do, we’ll go on strike. If we go on strike, workers in this hotel will also go on strike in sympathy. Once they go on strike, other hotel workers in other hotels will go on strike, too, and look at the trouble you will have created.”

          • Posted August 5, 2020 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

            I doubt much has changed though. This kind of inefficiency is hard to measure and, I suspect, not considered by those on the Left who thinks unions are for the little guy and, therefore, they are nothing but goodness. When a company has to hire a union worker to mount a bulletin board in one’s own office, things get ridiculous and costly. In a unionized business, every little job must be considered in relation to union contracts. Although I am sure there are times when unions are flexible, they generally feel that every task, no matter how small, must be done wy union labor and any concession leads to a slippery slope, kind of like the NRA’s approach to gun laws.

            • Filippo
              Posted August 6, 2020 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

              “This kind of inefficiency is hard to measure and, I suspect, not considered by those on the Left who thinks unions are for the little guy and, therefore, they are nothing but goodness.”

              I agree that workers in this particular situation didn’t earn any brownie points with this attitude. At the same time, as regards corporate efforts to combat inefficiency (and to manifestly demonstrate its own goodness and reasonable consideration for the physical health and welfare of employees), I’m reminded of those benevolent folks in the United Parcel Service executive suite some years ago (late 90’s?) attempting to double from 70 to 140 lbs. the amount of weight it expected employees to carry.

          • sugould
            Posted August 6, 2020 at 7:11 am | Permalink

            Had a friend in Indiana who moved to South Carolina. She didn’t like union contractors much, but found that non-union repairmen in SC would just laugh or shrug if the job wasn’t completed correctly.

        • Curtis
          Posted August 5, 2020 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

          Unions are one examples of both the left and right being wrong. We need something more like German trade unions where the businesses and workers cooperate for the benefit of both instead of business and labor fighting tooth and nail. The business/labor relationship should be seen as win-win rather than zero sum.

      • Posted August 5, 2020 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

        It is a small sample, but my impressions are drawn from where I grocery shop—Kroger’s which is unionized, and TJ’s which is not. The employees at TJ’s are invariably friendly, helpful and energetic. There is always an employee near to answer questions, and the shelves are fully stocked. Kroger’s is the opposite. Grumpy, unhelpful employees who are hard to find, and poorly stocked shelves in disarray. I shop at Kroger’s only for products I can’t get at TJ’s.

        • Historian
          Posted August 6, 2020 at 6:34 am | Permalink

          You seem to be implying that your differing experiences at these two different stores are due to the fact that one is unionized and one is not. You also seem to be implying a generalization: that a unionized workplace somehow is a worse place to work than a unionized one. Your “evidence” is anecdotal and meaningless. First, we don’t know to what extent other customers share your perception. Two, we have no evidence that your perceptions, even if largely shared by others, can be extended beyond this particular situation. Finally, we do not know if the differences between the stores are due to the unionization of Kroger’s. For example, it is possible that Kroger just happens to be a bad employer and if it were not for unionization the working conditions of the employees would be even worse.

          Despite what many have argued in their comments, I contend that unions have been an essential institution for protecting the rights and benefits of employees. The decline in unions over the past three or four decades has not been a good thing for workers. Of course, as all other institutions, unions are not perfect. Some are significantly more effective than others; some are or have been corrupt. Still, for the “average” worker, unions, on the whole, have been a significant advantage, although the right wing tries to tell them otherwise.

          • Posted August 6, 2020 at 9:30 am | Permalink

            While it was anecdotal, it is far from meaningless. It’s a relevant data point, a start of a conversation, and reasonable contribution.

            “Despite what many have argued in their comments, I contend that unions have been an essential institution for protecting the rights and benefits of employees.”

            That is probably mostly true but not universally. The damage unions do is often under the radar. IMHO, their decline is a symptom of deeper problems leading to income inequity rather than a root cause. Their behavior has also contributed greatly to their decline. Collective bargaining seems like a good thing but if a German way of handling (or some other model) it is better, perhaps it is worth looking at.

          • Posted August 6, 2020 at 10:05 am | Permalink

            As I said, it is a simple observation, posted on a website, not an economic analysis. Thank you so much, o wise one, for educating me in the error of my ways.

      • eric
        Posted August 5, 2020 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

        Unions are just like any other corporation – generally always looking to grow and expand their ‘market share.’ They’d dislike a successful and effective non-union chain for the same reason Apple would dislike a successful and effective Microsoft PC.

    • kraeuterbutter
      Posted August 5, 2020 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      Trader’s Joe is part of the ALDI group. ALDI is also known in Germany for paying above-average wages compared to other food chains. However, they also demand corresponding commitment from their employees. In addition, there are also repeated discussions, as ALDI tries to keep the (German) trade unions out of the group or exerts pressure on elected works councils.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trader_Joe%27s

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted August 5, 2020 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

        I wondered if anyone else would pick up on this aspect : the organisation known in America as “Trader Joe’s” is an immigrant – and a relatively young one at that. The Aldi group is post-War, and largely post-1960. I’m not sure when they sent ravening hordes of salesmen to conquer America, but they’re not contenders in the “Grocers to the Founding Fathers Stakes”.
        “Damned racist immigrants!” Now where have I heard that before?

  8. boudiccadylis
    Posted August 5, 2020 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Heartbreaking is the President identifying a pandemic as a particular country disease and that the country is creating the pandemic.

  9. KD33
    Posted August 5, 2020 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    I read the LA Times, WAPO, and NYT. I’d put LAT a little lower on the woke scale than the other two overall, with occasional exceptions such as this one. Generally though they do a better job delineating news from opinion, IMO. And they have some excellent writers such as Steve Lopez, Michael Hiltzik, and Robin Abcarian covering (mostly) state-level topics in a very thoughtful way. LAT is essential reading if you’re in California, maybe not if you live elsewhere.

  10. Laurance
    Posted August 5, 2020 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Is this article paywalled for some people? If you can’t read it, here it is:

    If you’re in love with Trader Joe’s, its stances can also break your heart
    Trader Joe’s in Sherman Oaks
    Customers outside a Trader Joe’s in Sherman Oaks.
    (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
    By Samantha MasunagaStaff Writer
    Aug. 5, 2020
    5 AM

    Grocery chain Trader Joe’s has built a devoted following that other brands might only dream of.

    It has a podcast. It prints an old-timey newsletter called the Fearless Flyer that makes readers laugh out loud. Fans rave about the high-quality, affordable groceries and the friendly employees who wear Hawaiian shirts. Some people even go out of their way to live near a Trader Joe’s.

    That’s the fruit of the Monrovia company’s efforts to create a fun and quirky shopping experience. But today’s increasingly polarized society puts Trader Joe’s in a tough spot: It can’t please everyone anymore.

    Recent criticism has charged that branding it uses on certain product lines, such as Trader Ming’s and Trader José’s, are racist. An online petition gathered thousands of signatures last month, and when Trader Joe’s said it had long since begun phasing out those labels, headlines trumpeted that the chain was changing its ways. Backlash followed, and then the company changed the tone of its messaging, distancing itself from the petition.

    Having to contend with a wedge issue could be a turnoff for younger shoppers, who tend to want the companies they support to have social values that dovetail with their own.

    “They’re looking for that community and that brand promise,” said Courtney Newell, chief executive of Crowned Marketing and Communications and author of “FutureProof: The Blueprint for Building a Brand Gen Z and Millennials Love.” “Those are really the things that are going to drive their [purchasing] decisions.”

    If shoppers embrace a brand because it resonates with them emotionally, then a difference of opinion can feel like a betrayal.

    Lupita Huerta used to decide where she’d live based in part on how close it was to a Trader Joe’s store. But the chain’s stances during this time of nationwide unrest did not sit well with her.

    “The packaging is just the bottom of the barrel, the low-hanging fruit” that’s easy to change, said Huerta, a 30-year-old transportation planner from El Monte. “This is really a time where companies need to reflect on what their goal is in this movement and how they can push forward racial justice in their day-to-day operations.”

    After seeing the company’s response and reading reports of its opposition to employee unionization efforts, Huerta stopped shopping at Trader Joe’s. She now goes to Sprouts.

    The controversy flared last month after a Change.org petition called on Trader Joe’s to change the packaging on some food items — instead of being branded under the usual Trader Joe’s name, some Mexican-style food products are labeled “Trader José’s,” and some Chinese-style foods, “Trader Ming’s.”

    The grocery chain has also used “Trader Joe San” for Japanese-style food, “Trader Giotto’s” for Italian-style food and “Trader Jacques’” for French-style items, and it says it has fully phased out “Arabian Joe’s” and “Armenian Joe’s,” which used to appear on Middle Eastern- and Armenian-style products, respectively. Some of these are other languages’ versions of the name Joe, while others clearly are not.

    The petition, which garnered more than 5,000 signatures, said the variation on packaging “perpetuates harmful stereotypes” and “exoticizes other cultures.”

    The nation is facing a reckoning over race that has prompted reconsideration of brands that have peddled racial stereotypes, such as Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s. Ice cream bar Eskimo Pie will also be rebranded after its owner said in June that it recognized the term was “derogatory.”

    After news of the petition broke, Trader Joe’s released a statement saying it had actually decided several years ago to start phasing out the product labels.

    “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,” spokeswoman Kenya Friend-Daniel said at the time.

    But days later, Trader Joe’s issued a second statement, this time saying, “We disagree that any of these labels are racist.” The company added that the petition did not influence its actions and that it had discontinued some names and products because not enough people bought them. “Products that resonate with our customers and sell well will remain on our shelves,” it said at the time.

    The second public statement seemed to undermine the first — an unusual move, said Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

    “Most brands, when it comes to issues of racism, they work very hard to avoid controversy,” he said. “Trader Joe’s is doing the opposite. Trader Joe’s is inviting people to opine on whether these labels are appropriate in the world today.”

    The second statement may have been the company’s attempt to set the record straight, particularly if it felt it was being criticized or misunderstood, said Fred Cook, director of the USC Center for Public Relations at the Annenberg School and chairman of public relations firm Golin.

    “I think of Trader Joe’s specifically as a very socially conscious company by nature,” he said. “However, there is a heightened sensitivity right now around all of these issues. Every company … needs to be very careful about the kinds of things they’re saying and the kinds of things they’re doing.”

    But the controversy isn’t expected to cause the chain lasting damage.

    “There are still people out there that love Trader Joe’s,” Calkins said. “That will be the case as they work through this, during this and when they come out of this as well.”

    When The Times invited readers this week to share their feelings about the chain, responses poured in. Trader Joe’s shoppers name-dropped dozens of items they loved, including fleur de sel caramels, Just the Clusters cereal, gluten-free toaster waffles and the summer special key lime pie. They talked about the table of food samples in each store. And they noted the ringing bells that serve as a sort of musical messaging system for staff.

    The store’s smaller size, more limited selection of items (usually about 2,000 to 3,000, compared to the average Walmart’s 150,000 items) and affordable pricing make shopping at Trader Joe’s a different experience than at most grocery stores, said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, a retail and consumer goods consulting firm.

    “They stay in a rhythm of retail that provides the best bargains and the best quality, but while they stay in the rhythm of retail, they do it in a offbeat and zany way,” he said.

    More than 80 of the 100-plus readers who responded to The Times’ call for opinions said the labels would not change their feelings about Trader Joe’s or its products. Several said that the controversy was overblown, that the labels were simply part of the chain’s whimsical brand or that the packaging paid proper tribute to cultures.

    As a German immigrant, Roswitha Koeper, 32, said she liked seeing bread products and pretzels imported from Germany on Trader Joe’s shelves, some of which were branded “Baker Josef’s” — though she emphasized that her experience as a white German immigrant was very different from the experiences of people of color.

    “It always kind of makes me happy to see that [Baker Josef’s label] because for me … that means that they just went out of their way to see where this product comes from,” she said.

    Non-German baking products have also carried the Baker Josef’s name over the years, including all-purpose flour and gluten-free cornbread mix.

    Elke Kolodinski has shopped at Trader Joe’s since her college days in the 1990s, and even then, she thought labels such as “Trader José’s” were a bit juvenile and silly.

    The Rancho Palos Verdes resident said she doesn’t care too much about the branding, though what’s most important to her is that the grocery store keeps stocking high-quality items at decent prices that stay on the cusp of what’s new in the food world.

  11. Adam M.
    Posted August 5, 2020 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    I don’t get the claim that the names advance stereotypes. What are the stereotypes? That Hispanics are named “José”, Italians are named “Giotto”, and Germans are named “Josef”? There are no such stereotypes to advance, nor will any be created by the packaging! It’s obvious that they’re simply translating the name “Joe” into various languages (except that Chinese presumably has no direct rendition of “Joe”), which is not in any way “problematic”. It’s not like the Trader José label shows some guy in a sombrero.

    I think people have a tendency to use these social justice buzzwords without really thinking.

    • Posted August 5, 2020 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      At least TJ’s didn’t label their Chinese selections “Trader Tso’s”.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted August 5, 2020 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      I think people have a tendency to use these social justice buzzwords without really thinking.

      (Does WP still do strikethrough text?)

  12. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted August 5, 2020 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    A fitting tribute to Grania – memorable and illuminating critical thinking.

  13. A C Harper
    Posted August 5, 2020 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Confected outrage.
    Confected heartbreak.
    Confected victimhood.

    A lot of it is just street theatre as people jockey for their own social status. I wouldn’t care except that it distracts from real problems that need addressing. Sometimes I wonder if the distraction is deliberate.

  14. Posted August 5, 2020 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    I get so tired of the Don Quixote approach to redressing racism. Perhaps TJs could create some product names for all of the rest of us: Trader Sven for Scandinavia, for example. Or, Trader Mongrel for people like me who are multiethnic.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted August 5, 2020 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      Trader Graine for the poteen racks?

  15. BJ
    Posted August 5, 2020 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    “‘The packaging is just the bottom of the barrel, the low-hanging fruit’ that’s easy to change, said Huerta, a 30-year-old transportation planner from El Monte. ‘This is really a time where companies need to reflect on what their goal is in this movement and how they can push forward racial justice in their day-to-day operations.'”

    Their “goal in this movement” is profit, like always, and people like Huerta have given companies like Amazon, Nike, Apple, etc. the easiest and least expensive advertising campaigns possible, ensuring those campaigns will be shared far and wide, written about positively in the press, and given far more coverage than any of their other campaigns. Companies that use sweat shops in foreign countries, mistreat their workers in this country, outsource work to foreign companies that use what is practically slave labor…but hey, at least they’re shouting their support for your movement from the rooftops, and that’s what is truly important.

  16. Hempenstein
    Posted August 5, 2020 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    It’s not like Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix or syrup, which had an old-time Mammy stereotype as a symbol.

    You are behind the times. Aunt Jemima has has a lace collar and pearl earrings, looking like she could be a schoolteacher since 1989.

  17. Posted August 6, 2020 at 4:52 am | Permalink

    why the weaselly headline, which appears to be some editor’s or author’s opinion that isn’t reflected in the story itself?

    Clickbait.

    If the headline reflected the story: “People think Trader Joe’s* branding is fine as it is”, far fewer people would read the story. It’s worked too, at least on you and on me and probably a sizeable percentage of the readership of this website.

    *The name of the chain is “Trader Joe’s” so should I write “Trader Joe’s’s”?

    • Posted August 6, 2020 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      Sure, your title is boring but there are lots of other choices. We might prefer “Trader Joe’s gets attacked by the Woke but survives” or “Trader Giotto lives”.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted August 6, 2020 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      Trader Racist’s 1619 Surfboard of Twenty-First Century Triangle Trade and You : Enabling The Flavor of Violence From the Frozen Section.


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