Oscar Mayer Fires Up Bacon Wieners in Battle for Top Dog

Kraft Foods Group Brand Looks to Seize on Sizzling Bacon Trend as It Takes on No. 1 Ball Park

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Oscar Mayer is about to unleash a new weapon in the wiener wars: bacon.

Yes, the marketer is planning to bring bacon hot dogs to market just in time for Memorial Day. While other dogs are wrapped in bacon, Oscar Mayer says its wiener -- in which the bacon is cooked-in -- is the first of its kind on the market. "We know Americans love bacon, and we know they love hot dogs, so it seemed like the perfect time for us to introduce our first hot dog made with bacon," Jared Baker, Oscar Mayer brand director, said in a statement.

Bacon is just one of the ingredients. Pieces of it are mixed in with turkey, chicken and other pork products. But bacon is the star: The wieners will be marketed as "Bacon Dogs," complete with a picture of frying bacon on the package.

Why now? The better question might be what took so long. Bacon is still sizzling as one of the most popular ingredients in food, popping up in much less likely places than hot dogs, such as milkshakes, jam, gum and vodka. Some 44% of U.S. consumers eat at least some bacon in every two-week period, an all-time high, according to NPD research cited by Oscar Mayer, which is owned by Kraft Foods Group. There's even a touring "Baconfest," which just wrapped up a Chicago stop in which creative uses of bacon were celebrated, such as bacon roses, bacon bread pudding and bacon fish meatballs.

All that would seem to make bacon hot dogs rather passe.

Still, Oscar Mayer is counting on its creation to bring excitement to the $2.5 billion hot dog category -- which has suffered during the soggy spring -- and help the marketer make up ground with top-selling Ball Park. The Hillshire Brands-owned brand has 22.21% hot dog market share compared with Oscar Mayer's 20.55%, according to SymphonyIRI. While Ball Park sales rose 0.71% in the 52 weeks ending April 21, to $565.4 million, Oscar Mayer sales fell by 7.19%, to $523 million.

Both marketers are now eyeing the critical Memorial Day-to-Labor Day period, when Americans consume an estimated 7 billion of the 20 billion hot dogs they eat annually, according to Kraft. Oscar Mayer is also planning to bring back Oscar Mayer Smokies Smoked Sausages, but with a 14-ounce version instead of the "Little Smokies" that were discontinued.

While this all seems like a departure from the healthier dogs being pushed lately, Oscar Mayer says it is sticking with its Oscar Mayer Selects hot dogs, which are marketed as having "no artificial preservatives, flavors or colors." The next dog in that line-up will be a chicken breast variety that is free of added hormones and gluten. Selects will even get a TV ad this year (below, by the brand's creative agency, McGarryBowen), while the Bacon Dog is expected to be promoted with less-expensive social media, PR and in-store marketing. The brand's digital agency is 360i, while Olson has PR.

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Ball Park is not sitting on its lead. The brand on Monday will debut a new campaign called "So American You Can Taste it" by its new agency, Y&R, New York. (TV ad below) "The new creative showcases Ball Park brand as an icon of great-tasting grill-worthy food that's essential for making these grilling occasions even better, while also paying tribute to the brand's heritage -- a brand born in the American ballpark," Timothy Smith, VP-Marketing for the Ball Park brand, said in a statement. The brand was launched in 1957 in response to a request from the owner of the Detroit Tigers, according to the Ball Park web site.

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So fire up the grill and check back with us in September to see who finished the season as the top dog.

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