Home-field advantage

by MEAT&POULTRY Staff
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When he was a boy, Matt Monkiewicz was at the baseball game in Boston when Red Sox hero Carl Yastrzemski, in the course of a Hall of Fame career, hit his 400th home run. The record is unclear, however, whether young Matt was eating a Fenway Frank, the signature sausage of venerable Fenway Park, at the time – though chances are he was. Everyone who goes to a Red Sox game at Fenway has a Fenway Frank. It’s practically a rule, laughs Matt.

And now, all those Red Sox fans will be eating Fenway Franks made by the Monkiewicz’s family, which has owned and operated 100-year-old Kayem Foods in Boston for four generations. It’s the first time in 30 years the famous frankfurter is being made by a local company, he says. The first official batch will be served when the Red Sox open their 2009 season at Fenway on April 6.

"We’re really happy about the partnership," he told MEATPOULTRY.com. Monkiewicz, who is vice-president of marketing at the company founded by his great-grandfather Kazimieriz Monkiewicz in 1909, said the three-year agreement was made with the team as well as with Fenway’s concessionaire, Aramark, and it allows Kayem to bill its product "the official Hot Dog of the Boston Red Sox and Fenway Park." Kayem will package and sell Fenway Franks at supermarkets throughout "Red Sox Nation" – that part of New England north of the "Yankee Line" that divides Connecticut.

Monkiewicz said Kayem has reformulated the frank, which had previously been processed by out-of-state companies with no special loyalty to the Red Sox, to fit a Boston taste. "We like a little bit milder frankfurter here, with less smoke and less garlic than some other places," he told MEATPOULTRY.com, adding, with a chuckle, "We matched it to go perfectly with Harpoon India Pale Ale."

Like the Red Sox, which finally emerged from an 86-year-long championship-free drought to win the World Series in 2004 and again in 2007, Kayem Foods changed its fortunes in the early 2000s. After supermarket consolidations created difficult market conditions for the processor, which had expanded into pizza and salad manufacture and employed more than 500 at its plants in Chelsea and Woburn, Mass., Kayem refocused in 2002 on its sausage and hot dog business. The decision proved right: since then, the company’s Al Fresco brand has become the top chicken sausage in the U.S., and Kayem’s hot dogs became the No. 1 selling frank in New England. Overall, Kayem is the 16th largest hot dog processor in the U.S.

The Red Sox approached several processors about supplying Fenway Franks after Kahn’s, a subsidiary of Sara Lee, ended its sponsorship as official hot dog manufacturer for the team and stadium. According to the Boston Globe, Kayem competed against huge processors including Armour and Hillshire Farm to win the contract. AC Nielsen data reveal that last year’s sales of Fenway Franks for Kahn’s totaled about $2.7 million.

Kayem will supply about a million Fenway Franks to hot dog vendors at the famous stadium, which opened in 1912, over the course of the 81-home-game season. Aramark and the team "have it down to a science," Monkiewicz said. "Fans won’t be short of hot dogs, but we won’t be left with a lot of extras after each game, either." Kayem will process an additional 8 million Fenway Franks for retail sale.

The Kayem executive, who says his family has held Red Sox season tickets "since forever," is optimistic that his company will still be supplying Fenway Franks at games this year after the regular season is over. "What’s the difference between a Yankee Dog and a Fenway Frank? You can get Fenway Franks in October," he laughs.

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