Appropriation or Appreciation?

Appropriation or Appreciation?

Trader Joe’s customers support its witty, ethnic sub-brand names and generally don’t find them offensive. However, that may not be the full story. 

In recent weeks, a petition challenged Trader Joe’s to change their practice of selling some of its international foods under ethnically-named sub-brands. Trader Joe’s rejected this request last week with a statement calling into question whether this naming approach is racist. In general, data from our survey (N=185, conducted July 29-30) suggests that customers don’t see this practice as racist. A majority of Trader Joe’s customers, as well as non-customers, do not find their sub-brand names offensive. In fact, the majority finds them to promote exposure to international cultures and ethnic foods. They identify names like “Trader Jose’s” or “Trader Ming’s” with international markets, and see them as creative and original. This general sentiment rings also true with our survey respondents, who do belong to those ethnic backgrounds that earned Trader Joe’s special sub-brand label. 

Is there no problem then? We would not conclude it quite yet based on this survey. About a quarter of respondents find the ethnic food names problematic. While less than 10% of respondents feel strongly about it, those who are not fans of this naming practice make an argument that the names play on established stereotypes (85% support). Some find them patronizing (57% support) and question whether using such names are productive. At the end of the day, some argue that many of the ethnic foods are not even produced in those respective countries. They would suggest that dropping the ethnic names could simplify things (81% support) and make Trader Joe’s feel more inclusive (77% support). 

As it is often the case, the one “correct” resolution may not exist. However, conversations around such innocuous issues as tongue-in-cheek food names can be helpful to push our divided society forward through a constructive dialogue. Even more so, although only a small minority is offended, their voices should still be considered in the discussion. 

Trader Joes groupsolver infographic
Trader Joes groupsolver infographic
*refers to respondents whose ethnicities are either represented in Trader Joe’s brand names versus those whose ethnicities are not represented in any of the brands