Introna bans brand after CEO’s anti-gay comments
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POINT PLEASANT BEACH — Following widely publicized anti-gay remarks given during a radio interview last Wednesday by the chairman of Barilla Group, local business owner Joe Leone Introna has decided to stop purchasing the company’s pasta for his own stores.
During an interview last Wednesday on Italian radio station Radio24, Barilla chairman Guido Barilla said his company will not feature gay families in advertisements for his products, because he believes in the “traditional” family.
The radio host had asked him why his company does not have ads with gay families.
“For us, the ‘sacral family’ remains one of the company’s core values,” Mr. Barilla said, as reported by multiple news media outlets. “Our family is a traditional family. If gays like our pasta and our advertisings, they will eat our pasta — if they don’t like that, they will eat someone else’s pasta.
“I would not do a commercial with a homosexual family, not for lack of respect toward homosexuals — who have the right to do whatever they want without disturbing others — but because I don’t agree with them, and I think we want to talk to traditional families. The women are crucial in this,” he added. After his comments were reported by media outlets across the country, Mr. Barilla issued an apology on his Twitter account.
“I apologize very much for having offended the sensibilities of many. I have the deepest respect for all the people without distinction,” he said on the social media site.
Barilla Group has also formulated a more detailed apology, which can be read in full by visiting www.barilla.com.
“At Barilla, we care about everyone, regardless of race, religion, belief, gender or sexual orientation,” the statement says. “Our mission is to help people — every single person — live better, by bringing well-being and the joy of eating into their everyday lives.
“We value and respect a family that includes everyone. As stated in the Barilla lighthouse — our strategy document — we promote diversity. Diversity of all kinds is a clear objective that the company has put forward,” the statement adds. “We will take advantage of the recent incident to learn and to promote even harder the diversity path that Barilla has undertaken. To all our friends, family, employees and partners that we have hurt or offended, we are deeply sorry.”
Mr. Introna, owner of Joe Leone’s Gastronomia in Sea Girt and Joe Leone’s Italian Specialties in Point Pleasant Beach, decided to sever ties with the pasta brand after hearing the chairman’s remarks.
“Due to recent, controversial ‘classic family’ remarks, Joe Leone’s will be boycotting the use and sale of all Barilla products,” the business said in a statement posted to its Facebook page on Friday, Sept. 27. “Effective immediately, the brand will no longer be offered in Joe Leone’s retail stores or kitchens. This is by no means a promotion of any religious view or political agenda, but a response to Barilla Group’s harmful comments and disrespect towards the homosexual community.”
Mr. Introna said the internal business decision was one he made for moral reasons.
“I made the decision out of my gut,” he said this week.
The business owner and chef said he has friends, family members and employees who are gay, and felt that keeping the pasta stocked in his stores after Mr. Barilla’s comments was not the right thing to do.
“I’m here to back my team members, regardless of their lifestyle,” Mr. Introna said. “I believe that humans are humans, no matter what their decisions are and how they live their life.”
His quiet, personal business decision, however, quickly garnered a lot of noise from people on both sides of the hot-button issue.
Mr. Introna said since last week’s decision to boycott Barilla, he has received dozens of phone calls and letters from longtime customers to total strangers. The business’s Facebook post saw 11,000 hits from site visitors over the past several days.
He said he never intended for his decision to be a political one, or one aimed at gaining publicity.
“I have people I don’t even know calling and thanking me,” Mr. Introna said. “I’ve gotten very positive letters, and very negative ones.”
He stayed away from specific details of what kinds of statements those negative letters contain, but did say people have criticized his personal beliefs, faith and family — criticisms that have upset the family-oriented businessman, who has a wife and children and considers his employees his extended family.
“There have been loyal customers I thought were nice people that turned out to be ugly and haters,” Mr. Introna said. “People have said they’re never coming to Joe Leone’s again because of this.”
Despite the unwanted attention, Mr. Introna said he stands by the move to boycott the pasta brand.
“I do not regret my decision,” he said.
His brother-in-law and business partner, John Hilla, agreed with Mr. Introna’s sentiments.
“It was not a publicity stunt,” he said. “We don’t hate Barilla — they make a good product. We just don’t agree with their position.
“They’re entitled to their views, and we’re entitled to ours,” Mr. Hilla added.
Joe Leone’s had been using $40,000 worth of Barilla products per year. Mr. Introna said he donated the remaining 200 pounds of pasta on his shelves to The FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties over the weekend.
He said he has already replaced Barilla with another pasta brand — declining to publicly name that brand — and said customers can expect “equal if not better” quality in his stores’ dishes.
“The positive support is keeping me focused on running my business,” Mr. Introna said, stressing that his boycott was not made in the hopes of seeking any kind of attention, positive or otherwise.
He said he will not be giving any further public comment on the matter, and invites people to address him in person with any concerns, as opposed to leaving him anonymous messages.