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We had a story last week about how Barilla, the pasta manufacturer, is facing threats of a boycott because of comments its chairman, Guido Barilla, made on an Italian radio program.

According to various translations, Barilla said that his company would never feature gay couples in advertisements "not for lack of respect but because we don't agree with them ... Ours is a classic family where the woman plays a fundamental role ... I have no respect for adoption by gay families because this concerns a person who is not able to choose ... Everyone has a the right to do what they want without disturbing those around them."

And he said, if gay people don't agree with him, "they can go eat another brand." Which is precisely what LGBT activists now are suggesting, though Barilla has tried to back off his comments a bit.

My comments:

People - even senior executives - have a right to their opinions, and even have a right to make statements like these. But they have to know that if they make comments that a segment of their customer base will find demeaning, there likely will be consequences. Especially these days, when comments made on an Italian radio show can find their way onto websites all over the world.

Do I personally find these comments to be offensive? Sure. Will it affect what pasta I buy? Probably. I don't use Barilla pasta much (these days I'm using Colavita because they are an MNB sponsor), but next time I see Barilla on the shelf, I'll bypass it because of these comments. And there will be plenty of people like me ... just as there probably will be folks who will buy Barilla now because they approve of his position. Though, to be fair, most people probably won't know or care.

Poor Guido. I feel bad for him, in part because his 19th century sensibilities just got exposed to the harsh light and cold air of 21st century realities. It isn't only gay people who ought to be annoyed at him. He also seems to think that women ought to be home making pasta, and that runs counter to the way much of the world works these days.


One MNB user responded:

I am sure that if Guido is Chairman he knows that his comments will be aired. Not unlike (Starbucks CEO Howard) Schultz sharing his opinions about homosexuals or restricting guns from being brought into Starbucks stores. When Barilla says that those who disagree can “go eat another brand”, it’s obvious he’s standing up for what he believes instead of catering to a minority. Good idea? The market will decide, but the market rewarded Mr. Cathy (Chic-Fil-A) for standing up for his beliefs.

It’s interesting that with a global brand, he shares a view more closely related to traditional Italian culture. Many of his consumers long for that Italian culture and are motivated to buy Barilla pasta.


MNB user Brian Harper-Tibaldo wrote:

I’m a gay man who’s married to an Italian.  A fair amount of pasta is consumed in our home and we too have no plans to buy from Mr. Barilla in the future.  Strangely though, the controversy left me thinking about Paula Dean.  When Ms. Dean similarly “stepped in it” I was also appalled, but at some level I could see how she was a sad product of the time and place where she grew up—that somehow her naiveté made the misstep understandable, if not forgivable.  Could the same be true of Mr. Barilla?  I suppose it could.  In the end, despite being offended by Ms. Dean’s actions, I felt a little bad for her.   I’m struggling to extend the same shade of sympathy to Barilla, and that feels hypocritical.  Granted, I’ll never buy Paula Dean cookware, but if I see it on a shelf it isn’t going to raise my blood pressure the way Barilla will.   I suppose when we speak with our wallets we’re doing so through the lens of the people we are and the lives we’ve lived, and that sort of emotion can never be equalized.

From another reader:

Thanks for bringing this to my attention…Barillo is my brand…but I’ll switch to Colavita…even if I have to order $99 at a time for free shipping from their online store.

And another:

When I shopped today, I noticed Barilla sauce was on sale for an appealing price and I reached right past it because of the story I read on Facebook. I didn't really know their brand before, but now I do for the wrong reasons.

MNB user James Bingham wrote:

Just wanted to quip in here – I think the comment “I feel bad for him, in part because his 19th century sensibilities just got exposed to the harsh light and cold air of 21st century realities. It isn't only gay people who ought to be annoyed at him. He also seems to think that women ought to be home making pasta, and that runs counter to the way much of the world works these days" is a little over the top.  Everyone is entitled to their own opinion (and the consequences that follow).  What we are seeing is someone with enough integrity to state his opinion.  He didn’t give it spitefully – he merely stated his opinion and he had the courage to say and live by what he believes to be true.  It is my opinion that regardless of the view taken – we need more people to stand up for what they believe – that is how discussions start and problems are solved (I think y’all would agree with that statement being in the business of providing opinions).  The will only way we can get more people to speak up is if we stop belittling others when they do take a stand.  We should applaud the courage needed.  Just my thoughts.
 
And MNB reader Herb Sorensen wrote:

Far more people agree with him than disagree with him, so the more this is published, the more Barilla wins.  That's just business, where people vote with their money.

And from yet another reader:

How can you be offended by someone expressing their own personal religious beliefs?  He is not advocating any discrimination or persecution.  How liberal is it when we all have to share the same personal beliefs and the thought police need to enforce the “enlightened doctrine” anytime someone’s personal beliefs go against their own.  I really enjoy your writing and you don’t need to change a thing.  Just thought I would throw in a little challenge to your thinking.
 
MNB user Steve Kneepkens wrote:

Really – your offended by the fact that Guido wants to have a family with an actual man and woman? Really – see this is exactly what happens when society is about to crumble – “What is good is now bad – what is bad is now good."

Scary – that having a wife and children in Holy Matrimony is 19th century thinking – man you have it so wrong it is really sad.. Sad because you have carved out a niche of readers that actually listen to you.

Sweet Cakes By Melissa – a bakery in Oregon was shut down because they would not make a cake for a gay couple. Hands on Originals in Kentucky is losing t-shirt contracts because they would not print an anniversary shirt for a gay organization.  Both companies offered competitive companies to go and have the work done. BUT NO – that is not good enough for the intellectually superior. All of you enlightened 21st century savants get what you want while those who believe in the truth are burned at the stake.

Now Oregon has changed the marriage certificate to say PERSON A AND PERSON B instead of man and woman. Next stop – PERSONS and A and PERSONS B…. Next Stop.. ENTITY A and ENTITY B OR POSSIBLY ENTITY C.
 
By the way truth is constant – the truth is not defined by you – or any of the other 21st century cultural relativists. Truth is light – and light does not dissipate.
 
That is your eye opener…


And, from MNB reader John Kopecky:

It is clear what your opinion is regarding this issue.  Be careful which side you take.  Remember what happened with Chick-fil-A?  There are still many, many people out there with conservative attitudes when it comes to what makes a family unit.

First of all, let's be clear about something.

The day when I start to be careful about which side I take - because I may be expressing an unpopular sentiment, or one that is considered politically incorrect - is the day I stop writing MNB. You are welcome to disagree with me, and I will be rigorous about posting emails that challenge me, castigate me, correct me and even convince me when I'm wrong or have made a mistake or misjudgment. But "be careful which side I take"?

Don't think so.

Now, in this case it so happens I don't think I'm expressing an unpopular point of view. In fact, while some folks may think that more people agree with Barilla than disagree with him, but I'm not buying that. In fact, I think for many people the whole issue of same sex marriage is a no-brainer ... and the vast majority of people under 25 or 30 wonder what all the fuss is about.

Still, this is a fun discussion to have from time to time, simply because it shines a spotlight on a very real business issue.

I would point out to those who disagree with me that in my original comments, I went to great pains to say that Barilla certainly has the right to say whatever he wants, just as now other people have the right to make buying decisions based on his statements. Those are called consequences.

I also think that one point made above needs to be reiterated - that Barilla is a global brand, and whatever the prevailing attitudes may be in Italy, any savvy CEO needs to understand that any statement he makes pretty much anywhere potentially can reach a global audience. You're right that he did not advocate discrimination ... but his statement reflected a world view that does think that certain kinds of discrimination are okay. (I've thought about it, and I do think, in retrospect, that saying I found those comments to be "offensive" may have been language that was less precise than I'd like it to be. I do find discrimination and intolerance - whether implicit or explicit - to be offensive. And please spare me that old argument that it is intolerant for people to be intolerant of the intolerant, that even the intolerant deserve tolerance. It gives me a headache, and it strikes me as specious.)

I never said that marriage between a man and a woman is a 19th century construct. I said that seeming not to be aware of how cultural attitudes have changed in this regard struck me as very 19th century. I'm hardly anti-traditional marriage - I've been married to the same woman for more than 30 years - and I've said before, I simply don't think I have the right to tell anyone else who they can or should marry. That would be arrogant on my part. And these days, even the Pope is saying that people should look at other people - even gays and atheists - the same way that God would, and God almost certainly looks on everyone with love.

I was interested in the case cited about Sweet Cakes by Melissa, and saw one story in Willamette Week saying that yes, the bakery had been the target of protests, but in fact had seen an uptick in business from people who supported the company's position. The owners apparently have not shut it down, but rather have simply closed the storefront, and remain in business. I also was amused by this paragraph from the story:

To test out which religious convictions would cause the shop to refuse business, Willamette Week called up the shop and asked them to make cakes for divorce, out-of-wedlock children, human stem cell research and a pagan solstice (with a pentacle design requested for the cake). All requests were responded to positively, with price quotes.

That's pretty funny. My compliments to the editor or writer who thought up that little exercise.

The Hands On Originals case is an actual one, and the t-shirt maker was found guilty of violating an ordinance that prohibits discriminating against people because of sexual orientation. To be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about this one. I think companies ought to have a right to not do business with people and/or organizations with which they disagree, but it gets dicey when political and cultural issues are involved. I do think this is an interesting discussion, worth having, and I don't have a knee-jerk reaction to the judgment one way or the other.

You're certainly right when you say that I pretty much wear my beliefs on my sleeve, and I do it because that's the best way to generate discussion and debate. But to wrap this up, let me get back to the core of my original argument...

People are going to believe what they believe. But when you lead a company - especially a company with a global brand - you need to be aware that you are speaking to a global audience, and one that has evolved to a point beyond which you may be uncomfortable. So you have to be careful about what you say.

Unlike me. Because while in this case you want to sell pasta, my goal is to sell provocative discussion.




We had a story last week about Bi-Lo Holdings considering an IPO, which prompted one MNB reader to offer:

With Randall Onstead, of the Randall’s Food and Drug of Houston family, heading up Bi-Lo Holdings this may be a better bet than you have suggested. Bi-Lo, Winn Dixie, Sweetbay, Harveys and Reid’s now have a direction and that will only have a positive effect on these companies.

But there is disagreement in some quarters, as expressed in this email:

I am curious to know about the person who looks at the Bi Lo IPO and says to him/herself, “this is a good way to invest my money.”




Had a story last week about Patagonia selling used clothes as part of its campaign to get people to actually buy less.

MNB reader Mike Franklin wrote:

Unlike most companies that market clean and green only to the extent of IRS allowable tax write-offs…Patagonia has always, in my eyes, been the only practitioner of “Natural Capitalism” Chouinard has always said, staying true to the mountaineer & climber was more important than profits and growth, Now Patagonia (Sheahan) is carrying on the vision, by taking responsibility for their products, even after they have sold them…Patagonia is my ideal company…they truly understand that customers, the environment, their people, and natural resources are intrinsically intertwined into one ecosystem. KUDOS!

Another reader was less impressed:

My boyfriend sold his 7 year old barely worn fleece to Patagonia in Seattle.  We were expecting maybe $10.  They gave him $30.  Meaning they were going to sell it for $60.  $60 for a 7 year old fleece?!  We went to browse the Worn Section when it opened.  Items were priced way too high.  They were asking the same price for items I can buy at their twice a year 50% off sale..... Umm no thanks.  I'll go on eBay (which they also have a "store" on).
KC's View: