Weiner Wars: Oscar Mayer vs. Ballpark

Countless Americans have this classic ditty embedded deeply in their psyches: "I wish I was an Oscar Mayer wiener."

But what it means to be an Oscar Mayer weiner is changing, because for the first time in 20 years, Kraft foods, which makes Oscar Mayer hot dogs, is altering its formula.

I went inside their top-secret test kitchen.

"We have even higher quality cuts of meats, a different unique spice blend to make it just the beefiest, juiciest hot dog that we've ever made," said Sean Marks, Kraft's senior marketing director.

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To drive the point home, he added, "We are America's favorite hot dog."

So why change? The fact is, Kraft is in a neck-and-neck battle with Sara Lee and that company's Ballpark Franks.

To counter Kraft, Sara Lee is touting its new Angus franks and turkey dogs.

"Sara Lee and Ballpark are the first national brand to go with Angus beef, and it is really number one," said Jill Houk, the executive chef for Sara Lee.

Hot Dogs Are Big Business

Call it what you may — the weiner wars, frankfurter fracas, hot dog hostilities — it's a fight both companies claim to be winning.

But why fight at all? Because hot dogs are huge business.

Nearly 1 billion packages of hot dogs were sold in the last year, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Association. Americans ate 30 million hot dogs at baseball games alone and this summer, and we eat roughly 818 hot dogs every second, the trade group reports.

"It is not a small market," said Harry Balzer, vice president of NPD Group, a market research firm. "This is something that is a very important part of our diet. We eat a lot of these foods."

Another reason for the recipe changes may be that Americans are taking the beloved hot dog for granted. Hot dog sales, while huge, are flat.

"There's only one thing that is going to happen if a market is not growing. New things are going to happen," Balzer said.

So do your stomach stretches, because these companies won't be happy until you're eating dogs like Takeru Kobayashi, the six-time competitive hot dog eating champion. His record stands at 63 hot dogs in 12 minutes.

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