The high-end kitchenware manufacturer Le Creuset issued an apology on Thursday for its response to criticism about the lack of diversity at its events.
Earlier this week, the food blogger Aisha Baker posted correspondence between the company's PR and her friend, who is a big Le Creuset fan.
The friend had queried Le Creuset on the lack of diversity at their events. To which a social media representative replied, "... our selection of media and bloggers who are invited are based on existing relationships built over many years and few new influencers. We do not look at racial diversity."
"I was quite surprised at the response, I assumed they would have sent her a generic message saying they will consider her suggestion for the next event, but they kind of dismissed her feelings," said Baker.
"I could tell she was offended by the way the account responded to her, making her seem as if she doesn’t really have a clue about their marketing goals," she adds.
Baker asked her friend if she could take the discussion to Twitter, and her tweet then clearly struck a nerve with many South African foodies.
Food blogger @Luyanda_Maf said that she also spoke out against Le Creuset's lack of diversity and then saw a decline in subsequent invitations to foodie events.
I complained about le creuset last year. I upset quite a few people with it and I saw how all my foodie event invites declined. I only got zomato events because we had a good relationship. The main food blogger cliques didn't want me around. ??????— cookingwithluyanda (@Luyanda_Maf) March 22, 2018
Thread ?? I used to love Le Creuset products, I've messaged them 2 years ago to try be proactive & create my own opportunities since I don't seem to get many from food brands – no response. "We don't look at racial diversity' is an extremely hurtful statement to make. Do better. https://t.co/l8E23J7snC— Ming Chows ????? (@mingcheau) March 22, 2018
Posted about this Le Creuset issue in a social media manager's group to discuss how we can best approach this. Have had four comments - two dismissive and cynical, and two constructive. Tells me a lot about how branded content is created in SA.— Janine Jellars sings kikirikirikiki (@janine_j) March 22, 2018
The way black people love Le Creuset pots. That kind of response from them is unfortunate.— Nobleman (@WayneHarper_) March 22, 2018
Following a raging debate and threats of a boycott, Le Creuset issued an apology on Twitter on Thursday morning:
Dr Sindi van Zyl, a general practitioner, regular media commentator on medical matters and long-time Le Creuset fan, said she was very upset by how Le Creuset handled the query.
"Their response was inappropriate, they could have gone with something generic and it would have sufficed," she added. "The fact that certain people were not seen as influencers by virtue of their skin colour was most disturbing."
Van Zyl, an avid user of Le Creuset's products, started a number of stokvels to save for the company's wares.
“In 2011, I asked the ladies at work if we could start a Le Creuset stokvel,” she says. Six people in the group each contributed R500 per month, which would be paid out to a member each month. When her month came around, Van Zyl got to buy her Le Creuset stainless steel pots.
Last year, she reached out to her 52,000 Twitter followers to start a new Le Creuset stokvel - and the response was overwhelming. She created 10 more Le Creuset stokvel groups from the people who responded. She herself is a member of two of the groups. Through the stokvel, she saved enough for three Le Creuset pots and a frying pan.
But the brand has disappointed her this week.
Le Creuset is owned by Paul Van Zuydam, who hails from Durban. Originally an accountant, he became a consultant for EFI Products, a struggling bakeware manufacturer in KwaZulu-Natal.
He eventually bought EFI, which was then acquired by the American group Prestige.
In the 1980s, the owner of Prestige wanted to acquire the French company Le Creuset. The deal fell through, and Van Zuydam asked whether he could bid for Le Creuset himself, according to an account in The Telegraph newspaper. He bought the company in 1988, and since 1996 owned 100% of it.
Van Zuydam is based in Lugano, Switzerland, which is also where the Le Creuset headquarters are.
Le Creuset didn't respond to Business Insider's request for comment.