A New Zealand restaurant chain swapped meat toppings with vegetarian ones without telling customers – and no one noticed.
On Friday 21 June, Hell Pizza introduced a new limited-edition Burger Pizza, advertised as featuring a “medium-rare burger patty” as a topping. The company says more than 3,000 customers ordered it.
But on Thursday, Hell Pizza revealed that the medium-rare burger patty was, in fact, plant-free, taking most customers by surprise.
According to the survey commissioned by the company, 70 per cent of the customers said the patty tasted just like meat, and 80 per cent said they were pleasantly surprised or unfazed by discovering it was plant-based.
Some 70 per cent of customers allegedly also said they would buy the Burger Pizza again.
The company said it acted to “start a conversation”.
“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 people would enjoy it,” Hell Pizza’s General Manager Ben Cumming said in a statement.
“With more pressure on the planet’s resources, we need to think about alternative food options,” the statement adds. “If covertly adding meat-free options onto a pizza encourages more people to be open-minded, we’re happy to do that!”
But not all customers were equally happy and some complained after the chain revealed the move.
"This is straight out pure deceit," one wrote in a Facebook commentbelow the video in which Hell announced the move. "There are people who have reactions to certain vegetable-based products."
“I’m a dietary vegan,” another one wrote. “Do that **** to me and I’d be wild. Do that **** to a meat eater, and they have every right to be equally as wild.
“People have a right to decide and know what they do or do not want to eat. This is an absolute disgrace and completely unacceptable.”
But others reacted positively. One wrote: “Can confirm, pizza was tasty, was pleasantly surprised to discover it was meat free. I would not have guessed it.”
“For those saying that they have the right to know what ingredients are used in their food, please answer this question,” added another customer. “Name KFC's 11 herbs and spices?”
Some have claimed that Hell Pizza might have violated New Zealand’s Fair Trading Act, which protects consumers from being misled, even if the menu did not specify the “medium-rare burger patty” was a meat burger.
“What does a reasonable consumer expect if it says burger and there’s no qualifier – It doesn’t say ‘veggie’ or ‘meat-free’?” said marketing lawyer Rae Nield speaking to New Zealand’s Stuff. “A reasonable consumer is going to think that means meat.”
The New Zealand news website Stuff said the Commerce Commission had received two complaints about the burger patties on Hell pizzas.
“We have not lied or made any false claims,” Hell Pizza told The Independent in a statement. “Some people assumed that the burger pattie was made from meat but burger patties can be made from many different ingredients.
“There may be a few angry meat lovers out there but it's nothing a pizza voucher won't fix.”