By Chris Hoenig
Can pasta go bad For many Americans, it just did.
Guido Barilla, CEO of the pasta business that bears his family’s name, has created a firestorm after telling an Italian radio station that he will not include LGBT families in his company’s advertising. “For us, the concept of the sacred family remains one of the basic values of the company,” he said Wednesday evening. “I would not do it, but not out of a lack of respect for homosexuals, who have the right to do what they want without bothering others. But I don’t see things like they do and I think the family that we speak to is a classic family.”
Barilla seemed unconcerned that his remarks might leave a bad taste in consumers’ mouths. “If they like our pasta and our message, they will eat it,” he said. “If they don’t like it and they don’t like what we say, they will eat another.”
The radio interview also revealed a sexist side of Barilla, who made the comments in response to Laura Boldrini, an Italian lawmaker who called out the country for the portrayal of women in advertising. “An advert in which the children and father are all sitting down and the mother is serving at the table cannot be accepted as normal,” Boldrini said. Counters Barilla: “My idea of family is a classic family where the woman has a fundamental role. I would never make a spot with a homosexual family.”
Barilla did go on to claim to be a proponent of same-gender marriage, but says he can’t support LGBT couples’ adopting kids. “As a father of multiple children, I believe it’s very hard to raise kids in a same-sex couple,” he told the radio station.
Within hours, calls for boycotts against Barilla were trending on Twitter. Here in the U.S., consumers are hoping to make Barilla eat his words, with a MoveOn.org boycott petition picking up tens of thousands of signatures by Friday afternoon.
Barilla’s U.S. subsidiary took to Facebook to try to calm the storm created by its Italian boss. “At Barilla, we consider it our mission to treat our consumers and partners as our neighbors—with love and respect—and to deliver the very best products possible,” a statement on the page reads. “We take this responsibility seriously and consider it a core part of who we are as a family-owned company. While we can’t undo recent remarks, we can apologize. To all of our friends, family, employees and partners that we have hurt or offended, we are deeply sorry.”
That wasn’t enough for many customers, including David De Maria. “I’m Italian, I’m gay, I’m married legally to a man, I have three adopted children. I had Barilla pasta for dinner last night. Today, tomorrow and forever more I will choose another brand of pasta. Good bye Barilla! You lose,” he wrote in response to the post. De Maria’s comment gained thousands of likes on its own within the first 24 hours.
Guido Barilla himself also issued a statement to say he was sorry for offending consumers. “I apologize if my words generated misunderstandings or arguments, or if they offended the sensibilities of some people,” the statement read.
Fallout Like Chick-fil-A
Last year, Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy also publicized his anti-gay stance. “Well, guilty as charged,” he quipped when asked by the Baptist Press about his support of anti-LGBT organizations. “We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that. … We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”
Similar calls for boycott have had a measurable impact on the fast-food chain. Chick-fil-A’s YouGov BrandIndex score fell from a 65—well ahead of the national average—to a 47 in just four days. Within 10 days, it was down to a 39. Even in the South, where the chain enjoys much of its popularity, the score dropped from an 80 to a 44. In the Northeast, it more than halved, plummeting to a 35 from a high of 76 the day before the announcement.
The company eventually stopped providing funding to anti-gay groups.