When an Indian-origin woman named Chitra Agarwal introduced her roasted garlic achaar for the first time in the United States, there was no product like it in the market.
She has been running her own condiment brand called Brooklyn Delhi, since 2014.
"You don’t find roasted garlic achaar," Agarwal was quoted as saying by NBC, adding that the garlic pickles she grew up eating were actually made raw.
Since her company's products were already on the shelves of US supermarket chains like Whole Foods, receiving a mail from Trader Joe's was not surprising to her. A representative of the grocery store chain had told her that they were interested in the products she was making.
'My Heart Just Dropped': Agarwal
After conducting meetings, Trader Joe's picked Brooklyn Delhi's Coconut Cashew Korma. Things moved forward slowly, but later communications came to a halt.
After three months, Agarwal found out that Trader Joe's had introduced a new item called "Indian Style Garlic Achaar Sauce," which was almost too similar to Agarwal's product.
"Customers were saying, 'Oh my God, your garlic achaar is at Trader Joe’s.' I remember getting those messages. My heart just dropped," the 42-year-old said.
Recently, a viral TikTok video brought the issue before a national audience, in which Trader Joe's was accused of watering down traditional South Asian products.
The packaging of Trader Joe's product also bore resemblance to that of Agarwal's. However, the most striking similarity was the use of the word "achaar."
It is customary to see jars, even in South Asian stores, named "pickle" or "relish." Agarwal, however, said that she consciously decided not to do that.
She also said that Brooklyn Delhi was the only US-made Indian pickle to spell achaar with two a's, which is how it appears on Trade Joe's jars too.
However, it is almost impossible to trademark a recipe.
While Brooklyn Delhi's achaar costs $12 a jar, Trader Joe's costs $2.69.
'Trader Joe's Version Deviates From Authenticity'
"They basically position themselves as being better than other stores and create a false idea of inclusivity, which is harmful at the end of the day. It ends up just leading to a misrepresentation of what this food is because they are introducing it to such a wide range of people," said Pragadish Kalaivanan, the person who spread the story through his TikTok account which has more than 55,000 followers.
He also added that Trader Joe's version clearly deviated from the authenticity of traditional achaar.
For Agarwal, achaar represents something incredibly personal, as it was a familial undertaking. During her childhood, she learned the art of making achaar by observing her mother and aunt.
"People kept on coming back to me and saying that they thought that it was us that packed it, when it clearly was an inferior product,” she was quoted as saying by NBC.
"At the end of the day, they’re not getting the real deal. They’re divorcing it from its roots," she further added.
(With inputs from NBC.)
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