Burger King adds hot dogs to the menu

Burger King's new grilled hot dogs will include classic and chili cheese varieties, making their debut in restaurants nationwide on Feb. 23. 

Candice Choi/AP
A Burger King "classic" hot dog at a media event to introduce the restaurant's new menu item, in New York. Burger King plans to start selling the hot dogs in the U.S. on Feb. 23. The company says it will offer two options of grilled dogs, a “chili cheese” and “classic” that has relish, onions, ketchup and mustard.

Burger King will introduce a two-item line of grilled hot dogs in more than 7,000 U.S. stores on February 23, a move that President of Burger King North America Alex Macedo told BurgerBusiness.com is “as big and important a leap as bringing chicken into the stores in the ‘70s was.”

The Grilled Dogs line of 100% beef hot dogs, which the chain tested in five markets last spring, includes a Classic Grilled Dog topped with ketchup, mustard, chopped onion and relish. It’s priced at $1.99 or $4.49 as part of a fries-and-small-drink combo. The Chili Cheese Grilled Dog gets warm chili and shredded Cheddar and is priced at $2.29 alone or $4.79 as a combo.

One of several unexpected wrinkles about the launch is that the chili—in Burger King stores for the first time—won’t be sold as a side item. “This chili is specifically made to be served on hot dogs,” Macedo said in an exclusive interview. “Our franchisees ask if it can be served standalone and we tell them no, this chili is served only on hot dogs.”

Also interesting is that Grilled Dogs arrive as a new permanent menu time: no limited-time testing needed. Macedo said the chain’s confidence comes not just from positive feedback in tests but also the natural fit of hot dogs with burgers. “If you ask me why we didn’t do this before, to be frank I don’t know the answer. It’s that obvious; it’s right in front of us,” said Macedo. “We don’t see this as a product launch; we see it as tapping into a whole category that’s under-distributed and that we haven’t been a part of.

“We see a lot of players in our category trying to be something different, going away from the basics of the category. I think for Burger King to come out with hot dogs goes to the root of the category,” Macedo added. “We’ll be unique, too; the only [national chain] to offer flame-grilled hot dogs.” Sonic Drive-Ins has a broad line of hot dogs but does not open-flame-grill them.

Another surprising aspect is that Burger King doesn’t plan to make the Grilled Dogs part of the “2 for $5” or “4 for $5” value meals, which have been successful for the chain. “For the time being, no, it’s going to live alone,” Macedo said. But he promised some future surprises in the line, which could include the Corndogs that it also tested (at $1.49) but chose not to bring out nationally now.

Deciding how to dress the hot dogs proved a thorny problem. “We did research across the country to find the preference for condiments on a hot dog. There was no one build that had more than a 20% preference. People like hot dogs their own way,” said Macedo. The decision was made to go with relish, chopped onion, mustard and ketchup. Informed that Chicagoans consider it a sin to let ketchup come near a hot dog, Macedo responded, ‘Well, you can have it your way!”

Macedo said he believes the hot dogs will provide incremental sales and not cannibalize sales of higher-price burgers. “There will be a big overlap of our existing customers who also will eat hot dogs. But the big success is if you can draw people who wouldn’t come to Burger King otherwise or wouldn’t come as frequently. From what we saw in market tests, this product has the potential to do that.”

To impress the importance of this new line on crews, Snoop Dogg and Charo were hired to star in English and Spanish in-store training films, respectively (including a different way to chop onions for use on the hot dogs). But neither one will appear in broadcast or digital advertising for the hot dogs. Macedo said the line will get “the biggest [marketing] push we’ve had at least in the five years I’ve been here.”

Macedo says Burger King becomes the biggest seller—in terms of number of restaurants—of hot dogs in America. Sonic Chairman-CEO Cliff Hudson boasted last fall, “One out of every seven hot dogs eaten outside the home is eaten in Sonic,” but Burger King solidly outnumbers his chain.

Independent burger bars have been adding hot dogs to their menus over the past several years, as I outlined in a post last summer. At that time, a survey of 100 top burger bars found at least one hot dog on the menus at 35% of them.

Hot dogs are a popular way to bring something different to burger bar menus, and they often appear as monthly specials. For example this month’s menu special at Chef Tim Love’s Love Shack burger joint in Fort Worth, Texas, is The Slaw Dog (a hot dog topped with house Love Sauce, diced onion, bread & butter slaw and cilantro).

This article first appeared in BurgerBusiness.

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