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Trader Joe’s enjoys the image of being a fun, hip place to work with vegetarian and vegan options, fresh meats, and veggies at an affordable price. However, behind the shiny veneer are rumblings that the California-founded grocery chain embraced racist stereotypes in its branding and crushing the power of unionizing within its employee ranks, taking unapologetic stances on both those points.

In a new piece by the Los Angeles Times, the company’s culture of Hawaiian shorts and peppy workers happy to point you to their latest snacks and precooked meal options is juxtaposed against Trader Joe’s use of names and imagery deemed insensitive by some, most especially in the wake of recent protests.

From the Times:

The controversy flared last month after a 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.”

Despite the strong push from petitioners and others, Trader Joe’s is definitely sticking to its somewhat racist guns, stating that it won’t fold other the pressure from outside groups.

There are also some columnists who feel that the reaction to the play on names might be overstated in the eyes of some and meant to be seen as a joke. One such columnist suggested that if products were sold in Mexico, the name Joe would be one familiar to natives of the nation thus the branding makes sense.

Check out the Los Angeles Times piece in full here.

Photo: Getty

Trader Joe’s Contending With Racist Images That Betrays Its Feel-Good Image  was originally published on