The Food Companies Caught Up in 2016’s Political Nightmare
Even food brands can't escape politics right now
These days, it can feel like no matter where you turn, you're smacked in the face with politics, and regardless of your political affiliation, the constant stream of news can feel overwhelming. But it's not just individuals who are being dragged into conversations about politics. Over the course of the last year, many brands, including food companies, have also gotten caught up in politics. Sometimes, food companies take a stand, either for or against the current president-elect and his politics, which opens them up to criticism and boycotts from all sides. Other times, companies are unwittingly dragged into these political battles as pawns without saying or doing anything actually controversial—but are then forced to respond. So here are eight companies who have been caught up in boycotts and political controversy this year, on both ends of the spectrum.
News broke yesterday that Kellogg pulled its ads from Breitbart, the news organization that's rose to mainstream prominence during Trump's presidential campaign and is known for espousing the so-called alt-right movement's racist and hateful ideology. As Kris Charles, a spokeswoman for Kellogg, told Bloomberg, “We regularly work with our media-buying partners to ensure our ads do not appear on sites that aren’t aligned with our values as a company." The backlash was swift, with Breitbart calling for its readers to boycott Kellogg's for being un-American, and Trump supporters using the hashtag #DumpKelloggs to express their feelings on the whole matter.
Ben and Jerry's
Ben and Jerry's, the ice cream company perhaps best known for its jam band-inspired ice cream flavors like Phish Food or Cherry Garcia, jumped into election season, full steam ahead. But that's not much of a surprise for the company. Ben and Jerry's has long been vocal about their corporate progressive values, including a campaign to "Get the Dough Out of Politics." (They are the inventors of cookie dough ice cream, after all.) The company has also long been in support of Senator Bernie Sanders, who represents their home state of Vermont, even making a Bernie's Yearning flavor of ice cream.
So after the election, it was little surprise when the company published an open letter to President-elect Trump, expressing their concerns about his impending presidency and voicing their commitment to remain "strong advocated for racial and social justice, LGBTQ rights, gender equality, respect for religious differences, and opportunity for all. We stand with women, people of color, Muslims, migrants, refugees, the LGBTQ community, the poor, and others whose lives may be further compromised by the policies and rhetoric you espoused during your campaign." The company added, "And we commit to stand with you if your work is toward building a more just, equitable, and sustainable world."
When Eric Trump visited Yuengling's brewery in Pennsylvania, the owner of the country's largest craft brewer endorsed then-presidential candidate Trump. Richard "Dick" Yuengling, Jr., the fifth-generation owner of this family-run business said, "Our guys are behind your father ... We need him in there," according to The Reading Eagle. The backlash among liberal-minded beer lovers was immediate, with many progressives vowing to never drink Yuengling again.
Starbucks hasn't made any direct statement about President-elect Trump, but the company has repeatedly come out in favor of inclusive politics. In the lead up to the election, for example, CEO Howard Schultz wrote a letter to employees and customers, expressing his hope in the so-called promise of America during these tough times, explaining, "Kindness, compassion, empathy, and yes love is what we need. It is what we must display and share. We are all longing for a deeper sense of human connection and humanity because, when we are touched by it, it fills us up." He also expressed his shock in an open letter the day after the election, writing, "We cannot know what the precise impact will be on our country and the rest of the world. I am hopeful that we will overcome the vitriol and division of this unprecedented election season."
The company even released a green cup in advance of the election, simply as a symbol of unity. As Schultz explained in a press release, the design "represents shared humanity and connection, serving as a symbol for stitching people together as a united community," and is meant to serve as a "reminder of our shared values, and the need to be good to each other."
But many conservative customers seem to be missing out on the overall message of inclusion and harmony, since there's been consistent backlash against Starbucks from conservatives, and the company doesn't seem to be able to remove itself as a lightening rod for political discourse. Perhaps the biggest irony of all of this might be that Trump supporters are now "protesting" the Seattle-based coffee company by buying more of its coffee and telling baristas to write the name "Trump" on the cup instead of their own. Maybe that's why the price of Starbucks' stock have been steadily rising since the election.
Hamdi Ulukaya, an immigrant to the United States from Turkey, founded Chobani Yogurt and currently employs over 2,000 people at the company's Greek yogurt factories in upstate New York and Twin Falls, Idaho. However, Ulukaya found himself the target of death threats from members of the so-called alt-right for employing more than 300 refugees from the Middle East at these facilities, with Breitbart falsely claiming that these employees were to blame for a tuberculosis epidemic in Idaho, among other things. These fake news reports, in turn, caused many Trump supporters to call for a boycott of the Greek yogurt brand on Twitter, as the New York Times reported at the time.
The CEO of Penzeys Spices, a Wisconsin-based company that sells cooking herbs and spices, sent an email to customers after the election, strongly condemning President-elect Trump. Bill Penzey, Jr., later followed up with a Facebook post, titled "Cooking trumps hate" in which he took aim at Americans who voted for Trump, saying, "you just voted for an openly racist candidate for the presidency of the United States of America." He asked these Trump voters to, "Make this right. Take ownership for what you have done and begin the pathway forward," by donating money to organizations like the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center or just volunteering.
Grubhub's CEO Matt Maloney wrote a company-wide email on the day after Trump was elected president, expressing his shock and condemning Trump's penchant for discriminatory speech. "While demeaning, insulting and ridiculing minorities, immigrants and the physically/mentally disabled worked for Mr. Trump, I want to be clear that this behavior—and these views, have no place at Grubhub. Had he worked here, many of his comments would have resulted in his immediate termination," Maloney wrote.
"Further I absolutely reject the nationalist, anti-immigrant and hateful politics of Donald Trump and will work to shield our community from this movement as best as I can," he added, even going as far as encouraging employees who don't believe in Grubhub's commitment to "a culture of support and inclusiveness" to reply to the email with a letter of resignation. Some people thought that Maloney meant anyone who voted for Trump, but in an interview with Forbes, he clarified, "I have no problem with an employee agreeing with Trump’s hateful statements. However, I will not tolerate discriminatory activity or hateful speech at Grubhub, and I will stand up for our employees when they are demeaned or defamed."
Back in August 2015 when he was just a presidential candidate, and not president-elect, Trump vowed to boycott Oreos if the cookie's manufacturer moved its factory to Mexico. According to CBS News, "'I'm never eating Oreos again,' Trump said, before adding that he would consider it if he could find some that were made in the U.S." Trump, for what it's worth, once also starred in a series of TV ads for Oreos, along with Peyton and Eli Manning.
But that didn't stop him from trying to start a chant at a rally in January 2016: "No more Oreos."