'The road to Hell is paved with good intentions': Hell Pizza comes under fire for 'misleading stunt'

Hell Pizza has come under fire for a "misleading stunt" in which they tricked meat-eating customers into a vegan alternative, with many questioning why consumers weren't told what they were eating.  

Releasing their Burger Pizza featuring a "medium-rare burger patty" last week, a spokesperson for Hell Pizza says they chose not to tell consumers that instead of a regular meat option, it was a plant-based, vegan alternative.

The burger meat was made up of the popular 'Beyond Meat' patty capturing recent international attention.

The Beyond Meat product has no GMOS, soy or gluten. According to the website, their products are made from mixtures of pea protein isolates, rice protein, mung bean protein, coconut oil, and other ingredients like potato starch, apple extract, sunflower lecithin, pomegranate powder.

This week Hell wrote about the success of the experiment; "taking customers completely by surprise" in their "mission to introduce carnivores to meat-free options".

According to a survey done by Hell, 80 percent of eaters said they were pleasantly surprised or unfazed to find out it was plant-based, and more than 70 percent would buy it again.

"We care about the planet and want to start a conversation and raise awareness about sustainable food choices," says Ben Cumming, general manager of Hell Pizza. "With more pressure on the planet's resources, we need to think about alternative food options. If covertly adding meat-free options onto a pizza encourages more people to be open-minded, we're happy to do that."

Cumming said Hell Pizza takes allergens seriously, saying they took all the steps possible to ensure the customers ate a safe, quality pizza.

“The Beyond Meat Burger Patty is Gluten and Soy Free, and there were no allergens that were required to be listed. All of our stores were instructed to inform customers who asked about the ingredients, and also had a full range of information on hand regarding the burger’s ingredients to ensure complete disclosure," he said. 

He added that if someone has a  serious food allergy they will ask for ingredients in a new product before ordering it. 

They even put together this video of some Wellington barbers being surprised by the news.

But the reaction from the public hasn't been as delicious, with many questioning why the pizza chain thought it was acceptable to deliberately mislead customers.

On a post on the Hell Pizza Facebook page, one customer wrote it "was wrong on so many levels".

"I think you're forgetting that the ingredients of the meatless patty may actually contain items that certain people should not eat - myself I cannot eat soy. If I'd ordered an item contain soy and wasn't told, I'd be bloody hacked off." (The patty does not contain soy.)

Another wrote that the pizza "was tasty but [not going to lie], my dumb non-allergen reading ass could have straight up died if this was something like quorn".

"Deceitful behaviour with good intentions is still deceitful.  You may have not broken the law [but] you have shown that you are not a company to be trusted," another wrote.

One man wrote that he had "gone into anaphylactic shock eating it". He has been approached for comment.

PR company BlacklandPR said in an email today they are "appalled" by Hell "misleading customers".

Company director Mark Blackham says Hell Pizza "deliberately withheld information and actively inferred the pizzas contained meat".

"The phrase 'medium-rare burger patty' is understood by a reasonable person to mean there is meat in there somewhere.  Hell knew that, and brazenly admits to not telling customers. This behaviour cannot be sanctioned.

"It is not okay to lie just because you think you're on the side of 'good'. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions," he says.

Blackham says he was also "gobsmacked" by the support for Hell from the Consumers' Institute.

"Institute boss Sue Chetwin has previously criticised Fonterra for 'using claims that are unclear or may potentially mislead consumers' and companies using the term 'cage-free' for 'misleading shoppers about what they're buying.'

"An organisation protecting consumer rights is supporting a company that dupes consumers. That's unacceptable. The rule is that customers get the information they need to make a good choice.  Anything else is a slippery slope to marketing anarchy  we're back to snake oil."

BlacklandPR says they don't represent any clients that may conflict with Hell's interests. 

However, not everyone has been against the stunt, with many congratulating the pizza chain on the meat-free option.

"I ordered this last night and I had absolutely no idea... It's so yum," wrote one happy customer. 

"I got this and it was AMAZING," said another.

The surprise factor was a success for many, with one man commenting, "Can confirm, pizza was tasty, was pleasantly surprised to discover it was meat-free. I would not have guessed it."

Hell Pizza has been approached for comment.

Beyond Meat is also used in the new Beyond Beleaf burger at Burger Fuel, which Newshub recently taste-tested.