California Pizza Kitchen Guarantees True Gluten-Free Dining Experience with Taste, Too


California Pizza Kitchen has invested heavily in a new line of gluten-free pizzas that aim to tap into the growing gluten-free segment—but which also are requiring changes across the operations of the Los Angeles-based chain.

The chain now is offering four gluten-free pizza options that are devoid of gluten throughout, which is meant to appeal to true celiac-disease sufferers. An earlier gluten-free offering a few years ago had a gluten-free crust—but didn’t guarantee gluten-free toppings.

But what might surprise most gluten-free devotees is that the new line also tastes pretty good, a CPK executive told brandchannel. “We’ve developed a gluten-free crust that we’re proud of,” said Brian Sulivan, senior vice president of culinary development. “It’s got good texture. It cooks well. It’s crispy. It goes well with our toppings.”[more]

Both CPG and restaurant chains have been scrambling lately to come up with gluten-free options in their aisles and on their menus as demand among American consumers continues to multiply. But offering gluten-free goods can be complicated, both because it’s difficult to replace the taste and texture components of the gluten part of wheat and because the gluten-free market already has fragmented into those with a true disease-based aversion to gluten, those with mere gluten intolerance, and those Americans who simply believe a diet is healthier without gluten. For one, Udi’s Gluten Free line of grocery items has cornered that segment. 

Rice flour is the main ingredient of the new California Pizza Kitchen crusts that, Sullivan promised, “don’t taste like cardboard.” The crusts also sport “a hint of sweetness and some oil.”

The gluten-free varieties will cost consumers an extra $1.50 to $2, which Sullivan said reflects “pure ingredient costs.” At the same time, however, the chain is investing in its operations to make sure that gluten-free pizzas can’t be contaminated by gluten from regular crusts. Now all outlets use rice flour to top all pizzas “so there’s no gluten in the air anymore,” he said. And a special area of ingredients are “zoned gluten-free in their own containers in their own area” of the kitchen. Cooking pans for gluten-free pizzas “have lips on them so they can’t touch other pizzas in the oven.”

California Pizza Kitchen also has formed a marketing relationship with an advocacy group called Gluten-Free Influencers Group to get their endorsement of its segregation of operations. “We want to make sure we provide an awesome experience” for gluten-free patrons, Sullivan said.

Only a handful of gluten-free pizzas will be served daily at the typical CPK location at first, Sullivan said. But as the brand gets the word out, and the growing ranks of American gluten-free consumers see the seriousness of its particular appeal to them, the chain can expect that number to grow—perhaps exponentially.