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Carrot firm's olive branch

Group ends boycott after Bolthouse Farms distances itself from Prop. 8 donor.

October 09, 2008|Maria L. La Ganga | Times Staff Writer

The food fight is over.

Nearly a month ago, opponents of Proposition 8 -- which would amend the state Constitution to ban gay marriage -- started a "soft boycott" of Bolthouse Farms, among the largest producers of fresh-cut carrots in the world and the maker of juices and smoothies sold in foodie haunts and upscale markets.

Company patriarch William Bolthouse Jr. had donated $100,000 to help get the measure on the Nov. 4 ballot, and Californians Against Hate wanted gay and lesbian shoppers and their friends to know it. The group figured it was truth in labeling.

Demonstrations at the "rock 'n' roll" Ralphs on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and Whole Foods markets in New York City and Washington, D.C., ensued. The gay blogosphere lit up, indignant.

But on Wednesday, the company and the advocacy group made peace, and the prickly pear cactus lemonade can flow again.

The "Don't Buy Bolthouse" campaign ended because the company's chief executive "has provided us with a compelling perspective which clearly demonstrates the separation between Bolthouse Farms and . . . its founder, William Bolthouse," Californians Against Hate said Wednesday in a written statement.

That perspective, the statement continued, "provides us with confidence that Bolthouse Farms is committed to working productively with the [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community."

For its part, the Bakersfield-based food giant "thanks Californians Against Hate for recognizing our work to meet our mission of showing respect and integrity to our employees, our vendors and our customers," company spokesman Lane Hudson said Wednesday in another written statement.

Jeffrey Dunn, Bolthouse Farms president and chief executive, was not available for comment. But the statement said that the company's position "is good for our business and good for the community at large."

The controversy began after word of William Bolthouse's contribution to ProtectMarriage.com, one of the organizations behind Proposition 8, began circulating on the Internet.

In early July, political consultant Fred Karger formed Californians Against Hate to draw attention to those who make major contributions to the effort to ban gay marriage in California, particularly business owners.

The "Don't Buy Bolthouse" campaign was the group's third -- after targeting two San Diego hotels owned by developer Doug Manchester and A-1 Self Storage, which is owned by Terry Caster. Manchester donated $125,000 and the Caster family gave $293,000 to the effort to ban same-sex marriages.

"We want the gay community and our friends to know who these people are, and then they can decide whether they want to support their businesses or not," Karger said in an interview.

Karger wrote to Andre Radandt -- Bolthouse's son-in-law and Bolthouse Farm's non-executive chairman -- Sept. 19, describing the contribution as "an insult to gay and lesbian Americans."

"Why should we spend our hard-earned money buying Bolthouse Farms' products only to have it used against us?" the letter continued. The next day, the group leafleted the Hollywood Ralphs. Demonstrations at the two Whole Foods markets followed.

In recent weeks, the 93-year-old carrot company, which produces popular fruit- and coffee-based drinks, has worked to distance itself from William Bolthouse and his contribution.

The company has released a detailed fact sheet designed to correct what Hudson described as misperceptions.

In it, Dunn said that "Mr. Bolthouse's personal actions are not related to Bolthouse Farms, the consumer products farming company, in any way" and the company "had no knowledge" of the contribution until early June.

Bolthouse sold his stake in the company in 2005, Dunn said in the document, although he leases his land to the company for farming purposes, and his daughter and son-in-law still own a 28% interest in it.

That wasn't enough distance for Karger.

Since then, however, the two sides have reached what Karger describes as "a settlement," with Bolthouse instating a "diversity program designed to support inclusiveness in its dealings with all stakeholders including the LGBT community."

Bolthouse Farms has recently extended medical benefits to same-sex partners of gay employees, according to the Californians Against Hate statement.

Bring on the carrots.

--

maria.laganga@latimes.com

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