Guido Barilla told an Italian radio station that he wouldn't consider using a gay family to advertise the company's pasta, saying that "the concept of the sacred family remains one of the basic values of the company." While he said that he had respect for gay people, he went on to say that gay consumers who disagreed with his message were welcome to enjoy a different brand of pasta.
Unfortunately for Barilla, a lot of people appear eager to take him up on the offer.
Barilla trended on Twitter for perhaps the first time ever, and it appears a boycott is now well under way. The executive quickly issued a clarification of his comments, writing on the Barilla corporate website that he had "utmost respect" for gay people and their marriages and that he apologized if "[his] words have generated controversy or misunderstanding, or if they hurt someone's sensitivity."
The fast-food chain has more or less weathered that storm, largely on the strength of brand loyalty to its tasty chicken sandwiches, and support from the demographic that agrees with Cathy's politics. But we're guessing there's a bit less loyalty to Barilla, which has plenty of competition on the shelves from other brands of dried pasta. Some fans may stay loyal to its prepared pasta sauce products, and there may yet be a counter-protest or "buy-in" from conservatives who share Barilla's stance.
But the Barilla brand is now intertwined with its president's ill-advised comments, and that's going to have a lot of grocery shoppers reaching for the Ronzoni instead of the Barilla the next time they need spaghetti.
Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.