"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 Jose'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.
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