California Pizza Kitchen’s PR firm sent out the following email to bloggers who write about celiac disease and gluten:
The wait is over! Today California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) has launched gluten free pizza crust, making 29 of their original pizzas available gluten free.
CPK has taken notice of the increased demand with more than 3 million Americans affected by Celiac Disease and created a specialty menu with various gluten free items. Among the 29 different gluten free pizzas available is America’s favorite, The Original BBQ Chicken pizza, the Pear & Gorgonzola pizza and the Wild Mushroom pizza. CPK also offers other gluten free appetizers, soups, salads, specialties, kids items and desserts to choose from on their current menu.
CPK is thrilled to offer those that require gluten free items a menu with the same delicious offering that they’ve always had, now gluten free. Please feel free to tell your readers.
Can I send you any images?
JCUTLER Media Group
13807 Ventura Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
Follow us on Twitter @jcutlermedia
For now, let’s ignore the myriad typos and grammar issues in that email, and focus on the content and the thrust of their pitch. California Pizza Kitchen paid their public relations firm to reach out specifically to gluten-free bloggers in an effort to promote a new gluten-free menu item which, it turns out, isn’t necessarily gluten-free at all. Check out the fine print on their menu:
“Gluten-Free” designations are based on information provided
by our ingredient suppliers. Warning: Ingredients or production
methods used by our suppliers may change, or there may be
product differences among regional suppliers. Additionally,
normal kitchen operations involve shared cooking and preparation
areas, or we may need to substitute ingredients in menu items.
We are therefore unable to guarantee that any menu item
is free from gluten or any other allergen, and we assume no
responsibility for guests with food allergies or sensitivities.
[Bolding is theirs, not mine.]
So, if CPK can’t guarantee their gluten-free products are, in fact, gluten-free, then why are they paying their public relations firm to blatantly pitch gluten-free writers with a product offering that CANNOT BE DELIVERED UPON?
It’s irresponsible, and it needs to stop.
I’m no stranger to restaurant kitchens. I know how difficult it is for restaurants to work with customers who have food allergies or autoimmune disorders like celiac disease. It’s an incredibly fast-paced work environment with so many different ways a customer’s “NO GLUTEN” request could get dropped during the service process — the server not writing it down or not entering it into the POS system, the expediter not getting the right plates in the right places, etc. So, I understand how difficult it is to work with customers who have food allergies. Believe me. I do.
But what I don’t understand is why California Pizza Kitchen would so blatantly target a community it cannot serve.
Let’s all be clear about something pretty fundamental to the gluten-free community — something we all inherently know, but something California Pizza Kitchen needs to be called out on: Unless an entire pizza joint is gluten-free, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS GLUTEN-FREE PIZZA. In any establishment that serves pizza, the risk of cross-contamination is just too high: flour-laden prep areas, gluten-tainted ovens, sauce ladles that regularly touch “normal” pizza dough before being plunked back into the sauce then onto gluten-free dough, slicer and pizza peel issues, staff error… the list goes on and on.
I’m really sick and tired of companies trying to jump on the gluten-free bandwagon when they have absolutely no means with which to actually deliver on their promise. It’s wrong, and it needs to stop. All it took was a simple Google search to find story after story and comment after comment about consumers who tried CPK’s alleged gluten-free pizza, only to get sick from it.
I run my own business, so I understand the need to be profitable. But, I also believe when it comes to health and disease, there needs to be greater integrity not just in a company’s product offerings, but also in that organization’s communications efforts.
California Pizza Kitchen fell down on the job in both regards.
Can they call their food gluten-free when what ends up on the table in front of you very likely has gluten in it? No. Could they call it gluten-reduced? Sure. Or, could they just be honest and truthful and say, “While we wish our menu offerings could be enjoyed by everyone, we’re sorry they cannot. But, we’d rather be upfront and honest with you about it, than put a customer’s health at-risk.”
Honesty and integrity go a long way. Deceptive marketing practices do not.
So, what can we do about it?
Let your voice be heard!! Don’t just sit there at your computer and be angry. Take action! Take ten minutes out of your day to call and email a few decision makers to let them know about California Pizza Kitchen’s deceptive marketing practices, and the severe risk at which it puts people with celiac disease, a chronic, debilitating autoimmune disorder.
We can’t continue to sit back and let companies put our health and well-being at risk. It’s up to us to take action to make a difference, and to encourage our friends, families, co-workers, and others to support us by joining us in this effort.
Below are some ways you can let your voice be heard:
Federal Trade Commission
Bureau of Consumer Protection
Submit a complaint online
There is an open field on the online form that allows you to register your concern about CPK’s deceptive marketing practices as it relates to people with celiac disease.
Los Angeles Times editorial desk: Send a letter to the editor of CPK’s hometown newspaper. Tell them about CPK’s deliberately misleading marketing practices targeted toward people with a serious, chronic disorder.
And, if there’s a California Pizza kitchen in your city or town, write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper to let them know about CPK’s deceptive business practices.
California Pizza Kitchen
6053 West Century Boulevard, 11th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90045-6438
Co-CEO Larry Flax
Co-CEO Richard Rosenfield
Chief Communications Officer Sarah Goldsmith-Grover
Direct phone line: 310-342-4656
Golden Gate Capital
Golden Gate Capital recently acquired and now owns California Pizza Kitchen.
One Embarcadero Center, 39th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94111
Telephone: (415) 983-2700
Fax: (415) 983-2701