“I would never do an advert with a homosexual family,” Barilla told La Zanzara radio station on Wednesday. “If they like our pasta and our message they will eat it; if they don’t like it then they will not eat it, and they will eat another brand. For us the concept of the sacred family remains one of the fundamental values of the company.”
Barilla, whose firm controls nearly half the Italian pasta market and a quarter of the US market, issued a “clarification” on his remarks on Gruppo Barilla’s website Thursday afternoon, noting his “respect for gay people and for everyone’s right to express themselves”.
“I apologize if my words have generated controversy or misunderstanding, or if they hurt someone’s sensitivity,” he said in the statement. “I’ve also said—and I would like to reiterate—that I respect gay marriages. In its advertising, Barilla represents the family—because it’s what welcomes everyone and what has always been identified with our brand.”
Swift reaction on social media
But the damage had already been done, in a sense. Italian gay rights group Equality Italia’s chairman was quick to announce a boycott campaign of Barilla in response to the chairman’s remarks, and within hours of the first news reports, the hashtags “boycottbarilla” and “boicottabarilla” were trending on Twitter.
Starting early Thursday, Barilla US’s Facebook page was barraged with responses from fans condemning the chairman’s remarks, including many pledges to boycott the brand. (A spokesperson for Barilla’s US arm didn’t respond to requests for additional comment beyond Barilla’s apology.)
“It appears that the chairman of Barilla Pasta is now eating his words,” Family Equality Council executive director Gabriel Blau told FoodNavigator-USA. “But it is ridiculous for him to say in the first place that he would only feature so-called traditional families in their advertisements. “We know that there are millions of families with parents who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) just in the United States alone. They are traditional in every sense—they are loving parents who work hard to put food on the table and they sit down together as a family around the dinner table.”
LGBTQ and allies 'an economic force' to be reckoned with
“I think it’s time that big businesses and other entities realized that accepting LGBTQ families is not only the right thing to do, but also smart for business, as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) people and our allies make up a significant economic force,” Tom Elliott, director of public relations at Chicago-based LGBTQ community center, the Center on Halsted, said in an interview. “People like Mr. Barilla should be careful when they say things like ‘Gays can go buy another brand,’ because the LGBTQ community is more in tune with where they are going to spend their money.”
Elliott pointed to the success of boycott efforts like that of Minneapolis-based retailer giant Target, which earned the scorn of gay rights activists a few years ago for donating $150,000 to MN Forward, a political group that endorsed a gubernatorial candidate who opposed to same-sex marriage. Since then, Target has launched numerous pro-equality campaigns, including selling gay pride T-shirts online during June’s Pride month and donating part of the proceeds to LGBT advocacy group the Family Equality Council.
‘Basically telling us to buy other brands’
“Gay, straight or whatever, all I care about is being treated fairly,” Gary Walker, an openly gay chef and culinary entrepreneur who appeared on Bravo TV’s “Around the World in 80 Plates,” told FoodNavigator-USA.
“It’s a shame, because it’s such a good product. But they’re basically telling us to buy other pasta brands.”
When asked what Barilla could do to regain his trust as a customer, Walker replied: “What I would want to see from Barilla would be to put their money where their mouths are. I’m sure they have homosexual employees. Let’s see Barilla give money to some LGBT organizations. In my opinion, that would really make me reconsider my position.”
Blau added: “I would call on Mr. Barilla to remember that our families support companies and brands that support them. He can demonstrate any change of heart he may have had by making it a point to feature one our families in an upcoming advertising campaign.”