The year's biggest fast-food feud was a battle over the NFL's national anthem protests that ended with a CEO stepping down

Hollis Johnson
  • The pizza culture wars were the biggest fast-food feud of 2017.
  • In November, Papa John’s founder and CEO John Schnatter said that NFL player protests were hurting pizza sales.
  • Pizza Hut said the next day that the protests weren’t impacting sales.
  • Everyone freaked out.
  • On Thursday, Papa John’s announced that Schnatter would be stepping down.

Everything was political in 2017 – especially what you ate.

When thinking about the biggest food-industry feuds that played out this year, there were plenty of options to consider. To name a few, there were Starbucks versus Trump supporters, Chobani versus conspiracy theorists, and Keurig owners versus their own Keurig machines.

But no fast-food feud shone quite as brightly as the political pizza power struggles this November.

Papa John'sHollis Johnson

In early November, Papa John’s founder and CEO John Schnatter slammed NFL leadership and blamed players protesting during the national anthem for dragging down the pizza chain’s sales.

“We are totally disappointed that the NFL and its leadership did not resolve the ongoing situation to the satisfaction of all parties long ago,” Schnatter said. “This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago.”

The comments, made during a call with investors, inspired backlash and soon inspired a divide that played out among pizza lovers across America.

The day after Schnatter’s comments, Pizza Hut was flung into the spotlight after Greg Creed, the CEO of parent company Yum Brands, said that the NFL protest had “no impact”on the chain’s sales. While Creed was answering an analyst’s question, people were quick to celebrate the response, which seemed to throw Papa John’s under the bus.

People on the right rallied around Papa John’s, calling it America’s pizza. The white supremacist website The Daily Stormer posted an article asking whether Papa John’s was the “official pizza of the alt right.”

Meanwhile, those on the left vowed to boycott Papa John’s, pledging their loyalty to Pizza Hut or Little Caesars.

Soon, other brands were getting involved.

Screen shot 2017 11 02 at 123252 pmDiGiorno Pizza

Frozen pizza brand DiGiorno subtweeted Papa John’s amid a Twitter pile-on. A second tweet clarified that the shade was definitely aimed at Papa John’s, implying that the chain’s pizza tastes like “dog s—.”

The pizza-industry feud is far from over, but all parties involved seem to be trying to take a step back from politics.

“We believe in the right to protest inequality and support the players’ movement to create a new platform for change,” Papa John’s tweeted in mid-November. “We also believe together, as Americans, we should honour our anthem. There is a way to do both.”

Papa John’s announced on Thursday that Schnatter would be stepping down from his role as CEO. Schnatter owns roughly 25% of Papa John’s, and will stay on as chairman after stepping down in January. According to a press release from the company, he will “pursue his personal passion for entrepreneurship, leadership development and education.”

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