Go Big, Go Natural: Treat yourself to a hot dog!

Columns
Snack Corner

Each year at CinemaCon, new products and innovative concepts are rolled out. In many cases, these ideas are a result of lengthy test- and focus-group surveys. This year brings items such as Maltesers from Mars, Toggi from Promotion in Motion, and Eisenberg “Go Big” eight-inch, one-third-pound hot dogs. It is clear that the media expects the cinema exhibitor and foodservice operator to improve the nutritional aspects of our offerings and we always see some new concession items based on these precepts. The question remains as to how theatre operators can offer healthier options and still maintain that attitude of “treats” (treats defined as providing someone with something pleasurable usually loaded with sugar). This year, a significant new product is gaining momentum: “Go Big,” a jumbo hot dog with huge proportions from Kelly Eisenberg.

Hot dogs are a staple of the concession industry. The issue for most people buying the sausage product is its nutritional value and healthiness. Hot dogs are commonly seen as meat byproducts filled with fats and chemical preservatives. MSG, sulfates, sodium nitrites, phosphates, milk solids and starches serve as fillers and substitutes for meat. These chemicals and substitutes have proven to be some of the most unhealthy ingredients humans can consume. So why do so many people love hot dogs? Hot dogs are as much a snack as a treat. Typically smothered in ketchup, mustard and relish, or chili and cheese, the hot dog serves as the “meaty” option versus candy and other snacks.

Kelly Eisenberg has turned the corner on the hot dog as a negative health option through its innovations and desire for the highest-quality offerings, recently unveiling the “All Natural Hot Dog.” The All Natural Hot Dog has had some resistance. That appears to be a negative, but au contraire, it has no MSG, no sulfates, no sodium nitrites, no phosphates. The “new age” hot dog is 100% Black Angus Beef products and is the pinnacle of gourmet sausages. The Eisenberg family uses a unique recipe, then processes the sausages in private smokehouses. There are no extenders or byproducts to reduce the meat content added. These features do not allow for extended shelf life, as the meat itself is now fresher than its counter alternatives; the shelf life is still procurable but just does not have the same amount of time as a regular hot dog. This healthier dog appeals to the Millennials, as the next generation of buyers is looking for better nutritional value.      

The quality of the product does come with a cost. This hot dog averages about 25% higher cost than the Black Angus Frank offered by Eisenberg. The question becomes: Does this item replace the current hot dog option or does it become a premium option for healthier possibilities? Theatres struggle with the concept to offer fresher products with better nutritional value amidst patrons who search for sugary options.

Jimmy Tashie, executive VP of Malco Theatres, Inc., gets credit for his driving belief that patrons will pay for the higher-quality hot dog. “We find our patrons, moms in particular, want to offer their kids a future of food without chemicals. The All Natural Hot Dog offers that presence.” Malco has been a leader in this product delivery, and when asked about its sales, Tashie reports that hot dog sales have increased 40% in the first nine months. “I have people asking me all the time, ‘Can I buy some of these hot dogs for my home?’ I have to say, ‘No, this is a Malco dog and is not sold in retail outlets.’ I am glad we have a hot dog people want to take home with them.” While the cost is higher per portion, the results are increased sales and repeat purchases, including more hot dogs sold per capita than years past.

The Go Big hot dog approaches a different area for the theatre channel: Size does matter. “If theatres are offering mega-tub popcorn of 200 ounces, 54-ounce sodas and five-ounce bags of candy, why shouldn’t the hot dog be ‘oversized’?” states Cliff Eisenberg. This newest concept brings a definite “eye presence,” as it overpowers the six-inch bun, its bulk and length making it appear to be a meal in itself. Much like the All Natural Dog, the cost is higher per unit; however, it commands a higher selling price, which in turn can produce higher dollar profits per unit. This innovation could validate that patrons “think big” and “buy big” at the cinemas.

The reality is that manufacturers like Eisenberg continue to attempt to solve all our problems: healthier options, better quality, and value propositions that meet or exceed the customer’s perceptions. Kelly Eisenberg leads the way in that category with the Black Angus Frank, the All Natural Dog, and now the Go Big Dog. It is interesting that while the candy industry has offered us treats in various sizes, healthy alternatives and categories of chocolates versus sugary brands, soda companies are offering us 120 varieties of carbonated beverages, and popcorn can be air-popped or not, served in sizes from 24 ounces to 200 ounces, hot dogs are now taking on a similar facet of diversity. These newest options from Eisenberg offer the consumer a treat of sorts, as these variations may not be available at your local retail outlets for consumption at home—making buying a hot dog at the movie theatre a real treat!