Mercedes Davis, a mother and entrepreneur from Cleveland, has been shopping at Trader Joe's for years, and she often saw other Black shoppers in the store. But whenever she perused the internet for Trader Joe's product recommendations or recipe inspirations, she noticed that people of color were underrepresented on social media.
So she decided to start her own fan account.
"I would post something and tag a Trader Joe's page and ... nothing would ever happen," Davis told TODAY Food about what happened when she tried to connect with the grocer's many fan accounts. Because Davis figured there must be others out there like her, she wanted to create an inclusive digital space where Black female foodies could trade ideas.
Davis launched Black Girls in Trader Joe's (which she calls "BGITJ") in mid-May. (She initially launched the project with co-founder Lauren Hight, but Hight is no longer involved.) In addition to posting about her favorite product finds and cooking demos, Davis features what other Black women in Trader Joe's are buying — and cooking — to help ensure that the account is a place where people of color feel valued while sharing their opinions.
In the first post, Davis wrote in the caption, "Yes, this is for you, Sis. We are #BlackGirlsInTraderJoes! Showing you our latest finds, staples & recipes! ... Show us what you bagged!"
"oh my gosh we're not alone!!" one person replied.
"THANK YOU FOR THIS PAGE OMMMG. A GAME CHANGER!!!!!" another wrote.
According to Davis, Black Girls in Trader Joe's amassed 1,000 followers on its first day. In just 24 hours, the number climbed to 10,000, she said. Today the account has over 105,000 followers.
Before running Black Girls in Trader Joe's, Davis worked in retail for 15 years at places like Nordstrom, Lululemon and Apple. She also holds an esthetician's license. However, she said that her heart has always been in the kitchen and that she used to spend most Sundays with her large extended family helping her mother, Felicia Davis, and her Panamanian grandmother, Phyllis Plummer, cook.
"A lot of my inspiration comes from the women in my family who taught me how to cook," Davis said. "There was no measuring cups. The recipe was a suggestion — that's how I cook. It's what feels natural."
To help feed a large crowd, Davis consistently mixes and matches items from Trader Joe's with groceries she picks up at her favorite farmers market.
After Plummer passed away in 2018, Davis took over her role in the kitchen, which she said has helped hone her cooking skills for Instagram. The account features a mix of Davis' favorite things to eat and her favorite seasonal finds — this summer, she's been enjoying Trader Joe's shrimp burger patties and jicama wraps.
Davis' absolute favorite meal is brunch, which typically features a spin on French toast made with Trader Joe's challah bread. She acknowledged that many Instagram food accounts have very specific content in their feeds, like strictly vegan dishes or desserts.
"A lot of people want to see Black Girls in Trader Joe's be exclusively healthy, but that's not me. That's not my life. I'm not plant-based. I eat red meat sometimes. I just do my own thing," Davis said.
Davis said that with so many followers, she now gets many requests to write recipes for her cooking demos, so she's working to formalize her grandma's improvisational method.
While food is an integral part of the BGITJ Instagram, Davis' next focus is to create a space for Black people, particularly women, to showcase what's important to them. She partners with Black-owned businesses to create and sell BGITJ merchandise, like reusable grocery totes and aprons. In her story highlights, Davis also shares links to Black female-owned food and wellness brands, Black authors and resources to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Just days after Davis launched BGITJ, George Floyd's death in Minneapolis police custody sparked anti-racist protests across the world. Within a week, many large brands issued statements on their social media pages to show support for the movement. However, by June 4, Trader Joe's had not.
According to Davis, many of the account's followers turned to BGITJ and asked what they should do as consumers.
"We crafted a letter and sent it to Trader Joe's and posted it. Once it was published, we did see a response," Davis said. "Had there not been a Black Girls in Trader Joe's, I don't know if they would have made a statement."
A spokesperson for Trader Joe's did not immediately respond to an inquiry about whether the company received Davis' letter two days before it issued a statement in support of its Black employees and customers on June 6. However, the brand announced in a podcast last month that it plans to better represent the Black community on its tasting panel, which tests products for potential sale.
"We have, you know, framed up for ourselves a goal to have 15 percent of the products that are presented at the tasting panel come from Black-owned businesses. Fifteen percent is about what the Black population of our country is," Matt Sloan, Trader Joe's vice president of marketing, said during the podcast.
The company did not disclose when the 15 percent guideline for products will go into effect, but it said "potential new suppliers" began rolling into stores last month.
Davis said that she was happy about the brand's announcements and that she will continue to follow how many Black-owned products are sold in the store.
Aside from keeping tabs on Trader Joe's, Davis said, she is excited to continue expanding BGITJ and expects it to become more than just a place to find out about food — she hopes it can become a lifestyle site and a wellness content exchange for people of color.
Since BGITJ launched, other "Black Girls In ... " accounts have popped up highlighting Black female consumers' experiences in Starbucks, Home Depot, Target, Home Goods and other stores.
"Before BGITJ, there were no Black or brown hands showing the products," Davis said. "It was a niche that needed to be filled, and I love to see other pages growing because of Black Girls in Trader Joe's. There's room for everybody."
This story was originally published on TODAY.com.