SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) — Responding to calls for Trader Joe’s to stop labeling its international food products with ethnic-sounding names, the grocery store chain said it has been in a yearslong process of repackaging those products and will soon complete the work.

In the latest call to re-name racially-charged brands and logos, more than 3,000 people have signed an online petition urging the retail giant to rename products labeled “Trader Ming’s,” “Trader José,” or “Trader Giotto’s” to refer to Chinese, Mexican or Italian food, respectively.

The petition by Oakley high school student Briones Bedell says the labels perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

“It presents ‘Joe’ as this default normal, and the other characters falling outside of it,” Bedell said.  “The central issue at the heart of all this is that when any community is not allowed control over their representation, harmful stereotypes and caricatures are allowed to be perpetuated.”

The company said in a statement that it decided several years ago to use only the Trader Joe’s name on its products and has been in the process of updating the ethnic-sounding 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 — one that is contrary to the welcoming, rewarding customer experience we strive to create every day,” company spokeswoman Kenya Friend-Daniel said.

Trader Joe’s says it is in the process of selling off all the merchandise with the old packaging and that it’s taken more than a year to do so.  The petition is calling for the company to set a date when that will be accomplished.

On Monday at a Trader Joe’s in Danville, it was hard finding a customer who was offended by the labeling.

“I think we’re getting a little out of hand, worrying about what Trader Joe’s calls their Hispanic food,” said customer Kathy Evans. “I mean, that’s just silly to me.”

“It’s difficult,” said customer Shaylee Koontz. “These days, it seems like everybody’s just a little too intense about being appropriate. I think feelings are important but to a degree, you have to have humor as well.”

Bedell admits she may be pushing the margins of sensitivity on this.

“I understand that not everyone may agree with me but, really and truly, my ultimate goal here is to start a conversation and raise awareness about these topics,” she said.

“Trader Joe’s is just a very light-hearted company, grocery store,” said Alamo resident Frankie G.  “You walk in there, the employees are always wearing Hawaiian shirts and whatnot. So, I don’t really think it’s that big of a deal.”

 

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. John Ramos and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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