The sum of the parts
February 24, 2010
by Joel Crews
For processors of hot dogs and sausages, ingredients and the elements of their products are critical to taste and mouthfeel. Few, if any, however, have successfully marketed the sound their products make when they are being eaten. According to Philadelphiabased Dietz & Watson Inc., quality is heard first, then tasted when customers devour one of its iconic, naturalcasing hot dogs. “We call it the Old-World Knack (pronounced: kah-nak) when you bite into it,” says Louis Eni, Dietz & Watson’s president and CEO.
After biting into one of the company’s franks or sausages, Eni says customers have come to expect a quality eating experience, too, which the processor delivers, in part, by using either all beef or a combination of pork and beef in its signature products. “They’re all meat – no chicken,” says Eni, whose company makes about 20 varieties of its German-style, Old World hot dogs and sausages using natural (sheep or hog intestine) casings in addition to 75 types of skinless franks. While not blending poultry with its beef and pork emulsions, D&W does manufacture and sell a line of chicken sausage to ap- peal to the growing number of healthconscious consumers. The company’s poultry products are made at its designated poultry processing facility in New Jersey.
As for the ingredients used in its oldest and most demanded hot dogs and sausages, Eni covets the company’s tradition of sticking to the decades-old spice blend and meat formulation. “None of the formulas have been changed since my grandfather,” says Eni of the company’s founder, Gottlieb Dietz. Its beef hot-dog formulation has remained consistent for 70-plus years, with a fat content of 22 percent. He says the original formula isn’t highly seasoned, rather it includes German spices. “It’s a mainstay in Philadelphia.”
To succeed in this segment today, processors need to be constantly developing new products. Consumers used to be satisfied with a brand and stick with it, but in today’s market that isn’t the case. “It used to be that everyone had their own favorite hot dogs and they didn’t want to try anything else or be adventurous at all,” Eni says. This is not so in today’s market, however. Nowadays, consumers are willing to extend their palettes, triggering a variety of spicier flavor profiles and seasoning blends being used in the development of new sausage and hot dog products.
Many companies, including D&W, are also using cheese in their hot dog and sausage formulas on a wider scale. “Oscar Mayer was one of the first to come out with a cheese frank years and years ago and the rest of us followed suit and tried to compete,” says Eni, adding that initial sales of D&W’s version, a bacon-cheese frank, was lethargic at best, due in large part to the fact that consumers were a bit more tentative about new offerings back then. Today, the company’s cheddarwurst and cheddar-chicken sausage are in high demand. “These products do seem to have found their niche,” says Eni.
Another ingredient-related trend Eni identifies is a resurgence in demand for natural-casing sausages. “Natural casings are hard to beat,” he says. “It gives you that European snap” regardless of the flavor profile inside, whether it’s D&W’s German Wieners, which are beef-and-pork, natural-casing frank (“the best hot dog we make”) or its New York style all-beef natural casing frank, which is infused with garlic-kosher style spices.
In terms of curing and preserving, D&W is no stranger to manufacturing nitrate-free and nitrite-free franks, as the company co-packs a variety of them for a valuable customer, Applegate Farms. Processing these types of products isn’t part of the challenge in growing this type of niche product, according to Eni, however, effective marketing can be.
“The reason it’s a bit of a hard sell is that the regulations require manufacturers to include the word: ‘uncured’ on the label,” which confuses many consumers, Eni says. “Many times, they think that means un-cooked or something similar. The typical consumer just isn’t that savvy when it comes to some labeling claims.” However, he admits that most supermarket chains and retailers are moving toward including a nitrite-free or uncured frank in their deli-case offerings.
Also becoming more common at retail outlets are frank-sized sausages in natural casings, which for D&W means bun-sized (6:1), linked, knockwursts, bratwurst or kielbasa sausage. Eni admits that while companies like his have had to develop diverse product lines to stay competitive over the past 70 years, the demand for some products will never wane. “While consumers are looking for higher-quality , leaner, healthier products, what is amazing is that every year we sell more hot dogs and sausages,” he says. “People still love a hot dog…a good hot dog – and they always will.” •