BUSINESS + ECONOMY

This is Oscar Mayer’s newest hot dog

Mar 6, 2024, 11:00 AM

Oscar Mayer plant-based...

Oscar Mayer is adding plant-based hot dogs and sausages to its lineup. (Mandatory Credit: Noah Fecks/Kraft Heinz/NotCo via CNN Newsource)

(Mandatory Credit: Noah Fecks/Kraft Heinz/NotCo via CNN Newsource)

New York (CNN) — Oscar Mayer is going vegan, even though the fad appears to be fading.

For the first-time ever, the Kraft Heinz-owned brand is going plant-based with two new versions of its hot dog and sausage it says offer a “smoky, savory taste and thick, juicy bite” that mirror its regular versions. The products, called Oscar Mayer “NotHotDogs” ($5.99) and “NotSausage” ($7.99), roll out nationwide later this year.

It’s a continuation of its partnership with the plant-based foods company NotCo. to expand Kraft’s plant-based portfolio in response to the growing hunger among American consumers for “better-for-you” products. In the past year, the company rolled out a vegan boxed Mac & Cheese, mayonnaise and vegan cheese slices.

The brand is doubling down on a segment, however, that isn’t as popular as plant-based dairy: Plant-based meat sales fell 9% in 2023 to nearly $886 million, according to figures provided to CNN from research firm NIQ.

Sinking sales have sparked troubles for pioneers, like Beyond Meat (BYND), which also has sausage products. The once-trendy plant-based meat company has faced falling demand and ballooning costs in recent years.

Beyond Meat last week said it was going to cut costs and transition to a “leaner operating structure” during its earnings report, however, it didn’t specify whether that might include additional layoffs following a 19% workforce cut late last year.

Despite the setbacks, there’s still a lot of “consumer interest in healthier and more sustainable food options” indicating opportunities for growth, Sherry Frey, vice president of Total Wellness at NIQ, told CNN.

Frey said that recent innovations in plant-based meat products, such as improving taste, texture and expanding options (i.e. including more protein per serving), “could entice new and lapsed consumers back to the category.”

Taste, in particular, is a pain-point that Oscar Mayer acknowledged in its press release, writing that other plant-based hot dogs and sausage remain “underdeveloped and under-consumed” because of consumers’ “disappointment in existing offerings’ taste and texture.”

It’s an issue that even Beyond Meat is still figuring out and hopes that a new version of its products, called “Beyond IV,” will deliver “superior health benefits and taste,” the company previously stated.

Besides taste, plant-based meat “faces challenges like price competitiveness, distribution issues and consumer skepticism,” Frey said.

Changes at Kraft

The Kraft Heinz Company (KHC) has also found itself at a crossroads amid changing consumer tastes for processed foods. It has been examining and revamping its portfolio in an effort to increase net sales by $2 billion through 2027.

In particular, the Kraft brand recently rolled out a makeover of its regular Kraft Singles cheese that emphasizes its lack of artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. The new packaging also includes a new graphic that says, “made with real dairy.”

In 2022, Kraft tweaked the name of its boxed macaroni and cheese to “Kraft Mac & Cheese,” which is “meant to reflect the way fans organically talk about the brand,” and the packaging also got a makeover with a refreshed logo and a single-hue blue box color that “amplifies the brand’s most recognizable asset — the noodle smile.” A new advertising campaign is planned for this year, too.

Kraft remains bullish about its NotCo. products, although specific financials about the collaboration weren’t revealed in its most recent earnings report. In Wednesday’s press release, the company said it plans to add even more plant-based products and expand internationally.

NIQ’s Frey said that since eaters are becoming more health-conscious and environmentally aware, plant-based meat and dairy “could likely become an increasingly popular choice for individuals seeking sustainable and ethical food options.”

Related: Oscar Mayer is now selling frozen wiener pops

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This is Oscar Mayer’s newest hot dog