Image Credit: Barilla Group and Olimpia Zagnoli
Barilla, the company which faced immense backlash after its CEO made homophobic comments in 2013, handed out packets of spaghetti featuring an illustration of a lesbian couple during the October Pasta World Championship.
In 2017, Barilla contacted Italian illustrator Olimpia Zagnoli to create an image to be used on limited edition packets of spaghetti no 5 for the Barilla-sponsored World Pasta Championship 2018.
“My first reaction was to say no, naturally,” Zagnoli, who has boycotted the brand since 2013, told It’s Nice That. But instead of declining the invitation, Zagnoli submitted an image that illustrated her rejection of the brand: a drawing of a lesbian couple sharing a late night plate of spaghetti.
“I designed a couple of women in love sharing a plate of spaghetti late at night and sent it. I waited for a response, thinking Barilla would never accept it but guess what: they did,” she said in a statement released by Barilla.
“We’ve been following Olimpia with admiration for several years now because we love her style. It’s simple and joyful, like spaghetti al pomodoro! The image that she created for us is also a message of love and inclusion, something very important for Barilla”, said Kristen Anderson, Chief Diversity Officer at Barilla Group.
Image: olimpiazagnoli.com poster to celebrate Spaghetti al Pomodoro for Barilla
Barilla’s commitment to inclusion and diversity began in earnest after a 2013 radio interview with Barilla Group chairman Guido Barilla, who said the company would never do an advert featuring a same-sex family.
"For us the concept of the sacred family remains one of the basic values of the company," he said.
"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 where the woman plays a fundamental role.”
Asked what he thought about how his attitude would affect gay consumers, he said "Well, if they like our pasta and our message they will eat it; if they don't like it and they don't like what we say they will … eat another."
Within hours of the interview, gay activists and some politicians were calling for a Barilla boycott and the hashtag #boicottabarilla was trending on Twitter. Guido Barilla was forced to post a video apology on the company website, however the damage was already done.
People around the world boycotted Barilla products such as pasta, pastries, cookies, bread, pasta sauces. The company hired a chief diversity officer, changed their policies and procedures to improve the company's culture around sexual identity and sexual orientation, gender equality, the rights of disabled people, multicultural and intergenerational issues and committed to supporting refugee and LGBT+ communities around the world. They now support Spirit Day each year and work with organisations such as GLAAD and the Human Rights campaign to help end homophobia.
A year after the public relations disaster, the Human Rights Campaign gave them a perfect score for gay-friendliness and the company continues to maintain that score.
"I took this assignment because I was free to express my personal point of view through my illustrations and I'm glad I had such a big platform to do so. I hope corporations, big/small brands and people will learn from their mistakes and educate themselves to make this world a better place," Zagnoli wrote on Instagram.