The president of Livingston-based Wilcoxson’s Ice Cream, which runs a plant in Billings, offered to resign Friday following social-media fury over a one-sentence Facebook response.
Although he insists he meant nothing derogatory, Wilcoxson’s president Matt Schaeffer, of Livingston, offered to step down to save the company from fallout over his response to a Muslim customer who asked if the company used any gelatin containing pork in its ice cream.
The meltdown started the evening of Sept. 21 when a man in Sheridan, Wyo., posted a Facebook comment about Wilcoxson’s “cookies and cream” flavor ice cream containing gelatin.
“Does it contain pork? I am a Muslim and love your ice cream and when I read it today I was shocked. I look forward to you writing me back. Thank you. If possible, if it does have pork gelatin please tell me what flavors do so I can avoid them thanks again :)”
Schaeffer said he was tired that night, was responding to a series of posts and only read to the “pork” part of the sentence before clicking on the writer’s Facebook page where he saw a map of Pakistan and quickly wrote this response:
“We don’t deliver outside of Montana, certainly not Pakistan.”
Schaeffer said he didn’t see the address of Sheridan, Wyo., because he didn’t read that far.
“There was a map on his Facebook page with a map of Pakistan, with a balloon in the center. I presumed he was sending this from Pakistan,” Schaeffer said.
The commenter took offense and wrote:
“What are u talking about!!??? I think.ur comment is rude to assume I live in Pakistan.”
The man said “just because of your ignorance, I wont buy your ice cream and definitely wont recommend it.”
Alisa Prigge, of Denver, who said she and her husband are friends of the Wyoming man who asked about the gelatin, sent a letter on Sept. 26 to Wilcoxson’s calling for a boycott to “stand up to racism, ignorance and intolerance” and sent copies to Montana reporters. She said that her friend is an American citizen who was born in this country.
Prigge said she hadn’t talked to Schaeffer to hear his version of the story before she sent the email.
This was an honest mistake, Schaeffer said, adding he apologized to the man on Wednesday and again Friday during an interview with Sheridanmedia.com
“It was wrong. I screwed up,” he said, calling himself a social-media beginner who has only used Facebook for four months. Schaeffer actually took over the Wilcoxson’s Facebook page from a fan who created it after the fan said it became too much work.
Wilcoxson’s is a company that has a history of shying away from media attention.
Schaeffer refused to grant interviews and tours of the ice cream plant until this year when Wilcoxson’s celebrated its 100th anniversary.
“This company has lived through how many wars and economically diverse situations? It’s tremendous. One hundred years in Montana selling ice cream? That’s incredible,” Schaeffer told The Gazette on Friday.
The company does not deliver ice cream outside of Montana, he said, but will ship some for special occasions.
“It can cost $175 dollars to send a $3 gallon bucket of ice cream, with the dry ice, the packer and Fed Ex,” he said.
The story quickly went viral.
The initial coverage Wednesday by the Bozeman Chronicle called Schaeffer’s comment “inflammatory” in its headline and lead sentence.
With every retelling, the story picked up some errors and omissions.
On Friday, a story on NBC News, where Schaeffer offered to resign, identified him as chief executive officer, instead of president.
The Huffington Post also called Schaeffer the CEO in its headline and story.
It also issued a correction for saying that Wilcoxson’s headquarters were in Billings, instead of Livingston. Schaeffer said he did not talk to the Huffington Post.
The Daily Mail’s online site in the United Kingdom published a Thursday story saying none of the angry comments seem to be coming from Montana.
But The Mail said hostile commentators were flooding Yelp, a business review Website, and including one that said, “Wilcoxson’s is a horrible company run by hateful people.”
Schaeffer had never visited that site either.
The derogatory telephone calls have been coming from out of state, Schaeffer said.
“In-state calls, including from Sheridan, have been very positive and supportive,” he said.
After negative comments started pouring in on Wednesday, Schaeffer took the company’s Facebook page down.
“The page will be put back up soon. It will be run by somebody other than myself, who is more adept at it,” he said.