(Hot)dog fight: Oscar Mayer in dustup with Ball Park

It's a dog-eat-dog world, especially when it comes to the frankfurter business.

Sara Lee Corp., maker of Ball Park hot dogs, has filed a lawsuit against Kraft Foods Inc., parent company of Oscar Mayer. The litigation skewers Oscar Mayer, disputing taste-test results in which Kraft claims its brand is top dog and claiming that Kraft shouldn't be allowed to label its franks as "100 percent pure beef" in light of the flavorings and nitrites in them.

The suit, filed in Illinois where both companies are based, wants Kraft to run "corrective" advertisements and pay Sara Lee damages.

For what it's worth, the list of ingredients for Ball Park's beef franks also include paprika extract as well as sodium nitrite. As for the taste-test claims, the issue centers around the language used. The main wording in the ads said Oscar Mayer dogs were preferred over both Ball Park as well as ConAgra's Hebrew National brands; the fine print at the bottom clarified that only "leading beef hot dogs" were put head-to-head with Oscar Mayer dogs.

There's potentially a lot at stake here. Hot dogs are big business, especially in an economic climate where people are scrambling for ways to feed their families on tighter budgets.

In 2008, Americans spent $3.4 billion on hot dogs and related products like bratwurst in supermarkets alone, a figure which doesn't include all the dogs ordered at ballparks and boardwalks. On the Fourth of July alone, we'll wolf down 150 million franks, according to the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council.

For its part, Kraft says it stands by its advertising. It will be interesting to see, however, if the language used in future Oscar Mayer advertisements and promotions is any different.

Even if Kraft's rebuttal doesn't cut the mustard with a judge, the company can still take comfort in the fact that Ball Park won't be able to butt in on its other recession-meal staple: mac 'n cheese.

In its first-quarter investor report, Kraft highlighted the "double digit volume growth" of its iconic orange-sauced noodles, saying that the increase was substantial enough to "more than offset the impact of unfavorable volume/mix in other parts of the business."
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