Within days of Meat&Poultry publishing its second quarterly supplement of “Links,” which is focused on the innovation and processing trends in the hot dog and sausage segment, a food company reintroduced a not-so-new hot-dog product that is, in my opinion, a good news-bad news development. On one hand, Eugene Gagliardi’s patented development of a hot dog designed with lengthwise slits - that cause the product to resemble a star after cooking- to lower the risk of choking associated with kids eating hot dogs, was innovative. The fact it was introduced in the early 1990s, but was apparently never embraced by consumers on a broad scale, however, is telling. In my opinion, this indicated Mr. Gagliardi, who is also credited with “inventing” popcorn chicken and Steak-Umms, had discovered a solution for a problem that hadn’t yet been sensationalized.
Not to diminish the seriousness of incidents involving choking children or the tragedy of victims and their families who have suffered after a loved one choked on any type of food, but the timing for the reintroduction of Gagliardi’s hot dog is unsettling. I have to think it is more than coincidental that Rastelli Foods Group announced the upcoming rollout of “Kinder Cut,” which is Gagliardi’s version of a hot dog with eight slits cut down the sides, within a few months of a troubling report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. In its report, AAP identified hot dogs among the foods considered to present the highest choking risks among U.S. children under the age of 14. Despite the fact that more than half of all hot-dog packages already include warning labels addressing choking hazards, the AAP recommended that the Food and Drug Administration require warning labels on all hot-dog packages. It further advised redesigning hot dogs in a shape that would lower the risk of choking, presumably reducing all food-related choking incidents that kill an estimated 100 children in the U.S. each year.
My concern isn’t with the idea behind the not-so-new product offering, but rather with how its marketing could potentially imply consumers buying traditional hot dogs and feeding them to children are taking unnecessary risks. Even the name of a product, in this case “Kinder Cut,” can be construed as exclusionary. I’m hopeful that marketers of Gagliardi’s product development are mindful that other products’ passive-aggressive type of marketing (including poultry labeled “hormone-free”) has proven to be a slippery slope that can give consumers reasons to doubt the safety or quality of other products in a given category. Consumers are already being riddled with doubt-inducing propaganda about their meat-case purchases from interest groups with anti-meat industry agendas. The last thing meat and poultry companies can afford to do is create doubt and confusion within its own industry. Marketing based on offering new options and ideas, not scare tactics, is a high-road approach on a two-way street.