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New Zealand Pizzeria Angers Customers with Surprise ‘Fake Meat’

New Zealand pizzeria denies misleading customers, says it was promoting awareness.

New Zealand pizzeria chain, Hell Pizza, earned its fame with creative, often cutting-edge marketing. This week is no exception.

On June 21, Hell Pizza launched “Burger Pizza,” topped with “medium-rare burger patty” along with smoked cheddar, honey mustard, red onion and gherkins. After selling to 3,000 customers in the past five days, the pizzeria then announced that the toppings were plant-based meat creations by the U.S. company Beyond Meat.

These burger patties are created with plant bases like pea protein or potato starch, and marbled with coconut oil and cocoa butter.

The Burger Pizza was meant to “start a conversation,” according to Ben Cumming, general manager of Hell Pizza.

“A lot of people are instantly put off by the idea of fake meats, so we made the call to not reveal its meat-free origins… because we were so confident they’d enjoy these patties,” said Cumming.

While this is a limited time offer, the pizzeria said that the pie was a success with 69 percent of customers saying that it “tasted just like meat,” while 80 percent was “stoked to hear the patties were made from plants.”

However, judging from comments on the post, a number of customers weren’t impressed with the covert activism.

One commenter wrote: “Nah, not impressed. Having had anaphylaxis twice and having a son with 6 allergies and intolerances I would be furious if someone decided to “fool” me on what I ate. Eating out is already scary enough but now it’s another store I can’t trust, unfortunately. Shame since they were one we could eat at until now.”

Another chimed in: “Yup! I’m also unimpressed by this publicity stunt. There’s coconut oil in Beyond patties which is such a common allergen? This could have gone badly wrong for someone.”

One commenter complained that it’s not truly plant-based if it’s served with cheddar instead of vegan cheese.

Marketing lawyer Rae Nield argues there is a considerable risk that Hell breached the Fair Trading Act.

“What does a reasonable consumer expect if it says ‘burger,’ and there’s no qualifier – it doesn’t say ‘veggie’ or ‘meat-free.’ A reasonable consumer is going to think that means meat,” said Nield.

The pizzeria has since clarified the topping as a Beyond Meat product, but the company maintains that the customers weren’t misled. Cumming said the customers were told the patties were plant-based only when they asked.

“We haven’t lied about the product – we rightly called the product burger patties, and customers have read into that what they will. We are very confident there is no breach of the Fair Trading Act, and Consumer NZ agrees with us,” said Cumming.

“If covertly adding meat-free options onto a pizza encourages more people to be open-minded, we’re happy to do that,” he added.