Relish this thought: even a tried-and-true type of protein package is getting a new look. Hot dogs, which have long been sold in standard packaging, are now available in formats ranging from single-serve to 3 lb.- and 5-lb. club-store boxes, with a lot more variety in between and some decidedly bold graphics.

It wasn’t long ago that the only question about hot-dog packaging was why hot dogs were typically sold 10-to-a-package while buns were usually sold eight-to-a-package (An irksome thing to some consumers, comedic fodder for others).

As retailers and foodservice operators, including concession vendors, look ahead to the peak season for hot dogs that kicks off in May, they may be seeing some new things from hot-dog manufacturers. Over the past few months, for example, the leading Oscar Mayer brand from Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft Foods has been providing a sneak peek at its package redesign on existing 14-oz. packages of classic wieners. An on-package sticker implores consumers to check out the new look that’s coming soon and includes a photo of the sleeker, cleaner label.

According to Jeremy Truxel, associate brand manager of Oscar Mayer Hot Dogs, that’s not the only packaging tweak in the works. “We have made a significant change to our 3-lb. club hot-dog packaging,” he reports, adding that the package has been converted from cardboard to a new saddle pack made from plastic. “The package is comprised of two pouches, and each holds 15 links. Each side of the package can be resealed, and it can be cut down the middle to divide the purchase in two.”

Truxel notes that the updated club-store packaging addresses consumers’ interest in quantity, quality and sustainability. “This new package allows consumers to see the quality of the Oscar Mayer meat, which is important to shoppers. In addition, it saves more than 12,000 trees a year,” he says.

Meanwhile, another hot-dog brand has focused its packaging efforts on club boxes. Philadelphia-based Dietz & Watson has continued to expand and improve its large boxes of hot dogs, including 5-lb. packages of deli franks and gourmet “lite” franks. Offering more options for retailers and shoppers alike, Dietz & Watson also markets boxes of deli franks, including its premium Black Angus franks, in 1-lb. and 3-lb. sizes.

According to national sales manager Greg Lake, the cardboard boxes – which have been updated with new designs – are being well received. “This packaging has proven to be quite responsive to families and those that consume at heavier rates. It also allows for a nice storage application,” he says.

From a merchandising perspective, Lake notes that the boxes can be sold in multiple display units all across the store. “The larger packaging makes for a ‘billboard’ effect and consumers can easily recognize their favorite brands,” he says, adding that various in-store marketing events and themes are effective with such seasonal displays as summer grilling, Halloween and Super Bowl.

Gwaltney Foods, under the Smithfield Foods corporate umbrella, also complements its traditional 12- and 16-oz. packages with a larger package for either club stores or as a higher-quantity alternative for traditional supermarkets. That package includes 12 bun-length hot dogs for a total of 48 oz. and is more vertical in shape than traditional horizontal hot-dog packages.

Celebrating variety

While more is better in the case of club stores, variety is also the spice of the category. To that end, Let’s Be Frank, a foodservice brand that has now moved into retail with products sold at several West Coast stores and through the gourmet Dean & Deluca catalog, offers a party pack with three, 12-oz. packages in mix-and-match flavors.

In addition to variation in size, graphics are a key part in differentiating mature products like hot dogs at the point-of-sale. For many years, hot-dog labels featured classic colors associated with the frankfurter, like red, yellow and green, with a clear film for shoppers to view the product. Now, hot-dog brands are increasingly using the front of the package as a billboard to present their message and identity. Some cases in point: Sabrett skinless, beef-frank packages are white, with bright splashes of blue, while Kobe Beef America’s sleek all-black label emphasizes the “Elite” name of the product.

The venerable Ball Park brand, now a part of Hillshire Brands, has also put a twist on hot-dog package visuals. Packages of Ball Park’s Deli-Style beef franks evoke nostalgia, with vintage black-and-white photos of New York City and the verbiage: “A New York tradition.” Modern convenience isn’t left out, though, since the packages also have resealable Zip-Pak closures.

In addition to redesigns and enhanced graphics, new hot-dog products also reflect some different approaches to meeting consumer needs. Oscar Mayer recently debuted a new 2-lb. hot-dog package. “We had not sold hot dogs in 2-lb. packages in the past. However, traditional retail consumers expressed interest in this size due to value,” says Truxel.

Like the 3-lb. package, Oscar Mayer’s 2-lb. package will be made of plastic and features a resealable zipper. “The package has a vertical orientation for brand blocking. It fits nicely in the well,” adds Truxel.

In addition, the labels for Oscar Mayer’s recently-introduced line of Selects hot dogs reflects the more natural profile of those products, which contain no artificial preservatives, flavors or colors. The label, reflecting the products’ natural attributes, includes several bright-green icons to quickly convey a message to shoppers.

The natural and organic side of the hot-dog market, in fact, continues to grow, evident in a greater variety of uncured and natural products now offered by major brands, as well as specialty brands and smaller processors. Language takes on greater importance on the label, with more information provided to detail-seeking shoppers. And in the future, expect organic/natural hot-dog companies to tout environmentally-friendlier packaging materials.

For its organic hot dogs, Bridgewater, NJ-based Applegate Farms gets right to the point with a boldly colored label featuring a large hot-dog image. The product name – The Great Organic Beef Hot Dog – is in extra-large typeface to attract attention at the refrigerated case.

Hot dogs are also getting a makeover of sorts, in snack form. Odoms Tennessee Pride, Madison, Tenn., a ConAgra Foods brand, recently rolled out Premium Minis Hot Dogs and Buns. The franks are half the size of regular hot dogs, tucked inside a soft bun and individually wrapped in a microwavable package for quick heating. According to Jim Hea, vice president of sales and marketing, the target audience was the driving force behind the R&D. “This new product is just another way for Tennessee Pride to help provide mothers with delicious food solutions for their busy lives,” he remarks.

Adding value

At specialty retailer Trader Joe’s, the Parmesan Pastry Pups appetizer – hot dogs wrapped in parmesan-sprinkled pastry dough and marketed in plastic trays with an outer cardboard box – continues to be a strong seller and has been named a top product by reviewers like Ladies Home Journal. That product is another example of how food companies are truly thinking outside the bun when it comes to the old-fashioned, All-American hot dog.

Lynn Petrak is a freelance writer based in the Chicago area.