A New York-based entrepreneur is accusing Trader Joe’s of copying her brand’s bestselling Indian condiment.
Chitra Agrawal, 42, has been selling Indian condiments under her brand Brooklyn Delhi since 2014. Her company reportedly introduced roasted garlic achaar to the U.S. market.
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Agrawal considers Brooklyn Delhi’s Roasted Garlic Achaar her innovation since she specifically developed the recipe to make it taste more “homemade.”
In an Instagram post, Agrawal explained that she “set out to capture the essence of the achaar I grew up eating while also highlighting the flavor of the produce.”
“I love achaar so much I wanted to be able to eat it all the time without feeling like I was loading up on sodium compared to traditional achaars, you can really go to town and use more of it and use it more often,” she wrote.
Today, her products are already enjoying national distribution via chains such as Whole Foods.
A Trader Joe’s representative reportedly reached out to Agrawal last year and expressed interest in Brooklyn Delhi’s product line. According to Agrawal, Brooklyn Delhi’s achaar sauce was among the range of products initially discussed, but the grocery chain eventually focused its attention on her lower-end items after they talked about pricing. Trader Joe’s expressed interest in Brooklyn Delhi’s Coconut Cashew Korma following a group testing, but communications abruptly stopped.
Agrawal was told the company decided against stocking her products as they were already adding a different Indian product. However, her customers messaged her some three months later about how Trader Joe’s had released a new item called “Indian Style Garlic Achaar Sauce.”
In addition to the two products sharing similar packaging, Agrawal believes that Trader Joe’s use of the word “achaar” made it an obvious copy since even large Indian pickle brands do not call their products “achaar.” South Asian companies commonly use the term “pickle” or “relish” in their state-side pickle products.
“We’re the only U.S.-made Indian pickle brand sold widely in mainstream American markets that spells achaar with two A’s, which is what was on Trader Joe’s label,” Agrawal explained.
A major difference between the two products is the price, with Brooklyn Delhi’s achaar selling for $12 per jar and Trader Joe’s version for $2.69.
Agrawal took to Instagram to accuse Trader Joe’s of launching a knockoff, writing, “I wasn’t going to post about this but I’ve been tagged enough to realize that either people think we are making this watered-down version of our Roasted Garlic Achaar or being led to believe that achaar is a simmer sauce.”
“Let’s just set the record straight,” she continued. “Trader Joe’s has launched a cheap knock off of our product (not to mention ripped off our simmer sauce label design) … Their version is cheap because the first ingredient is not even garlic which is a very expensive ingredient when using whole, fresh cloves like we do and the garlic purée they use is cut with water and citric acid.”
“I am mentally spent thinking about all the time and effort that went into developing this product and educating people on what achaar is to then have a large corporation bastardize the recipe and capitalize on what we have built,” she added.
On its website, Trader Joe’s describes its product as follows: “It’s inspired by achaar (Hindi for “pickle”), a tradition of Indian cuisine that some estimate originated 4,000 years ago. Our version swaps out the whole cloves of a typical lahsun ka achaar dish with puréed roasted and fresh garlic, which combines with puréed red Anaheim and jalapeño peppers to create one super savory, satisfyingly spicy Sauce.”
In an interview with New York Magazine, Agrawal pointed out that regular achar is pickled raw garlic, but Trader Joe’s roasts its garlic just as they do at Brooklyn Delhi.
“I love the flavor of roasted garlic, so I wanted to combine the flavors of traditional Indian garlic pickle with roasted garlic clove,” she was quoted as saying.
TikTok user Pragadish Kalaivanan accused Trader Joe’s of undercutting Brooklyn Delhi with a watered-down version of its product in a viral post last week.
“Not only is this affecting Brooklyn Delhi as a business, but it’s also affecting consumers because they are getting a watered-down, less flavorful version of what they actually want,” Kalaivanan says in his video. “They are going to go away thinking ‘Oh, that’s what an Indian pickle is?’”
“Trader Joe’s and capitalism are not only affecting an Indian-owned business, but more than that, they’re taking our culture and presenting it in the wrong way to a wide range of audience and consumers who do not know about it essentially,” he adds.
@pragadishkalaivan This has to stop. Support @Brooklyn Delhi #culturalappropriation #aapibusiness #stopmisinformation #culturalappreciation ♬ original sound – Pragadish Kalaivanan
Kalaivanan then urges his viewers to let Trader Joe’s know that such a practice must no longer continue, saying, “The only way we can affect actual change is by public outrage. Please tell Trader Joe’s this is wrong. Let them know it’s not okay to steal from a small business, to take somebody’s culture and water it down just for capitalism. This has to stop.”
His video, which has been viewed over 265,000 times, has earned positive feedback from commenters who mostly thanked him for discussing the issue on his platform.