Last night, Burger King announced one the biggest changes to its product lineup since chicken: a hot dog — two different SKUs of hot dogs, to be exact. Yes, we now live in a world in which hotdogs have SKUs, and tech is everything, even our lunch.
The modern gadget announcement, established by Apple's notoriously choreographed product reveals, has spread to the world of fast food. The hot dog announcement was delivered in a showy Manhattan loft. Today, a steamy frank is launched with the gravitas and spectacle of the latest smartphone.
Burger King’s North America president Alex Macedo didn't shy away from the language and established beats honed by companies like Google and Microsoft. If anything, he owned them. The hotdog is Burger King's tablet equivalent — a product meant to complement its flagship mega-seller (in this case, a Whopper).
Multiple SKUs. (Yes, he said SKUs aloud) "We explored maybe having one hot dog, we explored having a hot dog family. We landed at the two most demanded flavors, which we’re calling the classic and the chili cheese."
What about a hot dog mini? "Not to start. We’re gonna start crawling, but later we’ll run a marathon."
Premium pricing. "We’re not gonna play in the value game. This is a high-quality item… it’s gonna be $1.99 for the classic build and $2.29 for the chili cheese."
Numbers in the billions! "20 billion hot dogs are served in the United States each year."
Attention to packaging. "We had the same packaging that everyone else served. We decided to be really, really smart and change the packaging. We failed miserably. We’re back to traditional packaging."
Efficient manufacturing. "After a couple of weeks [of testing], we found the employees could build a hot dog just as fast as they could build a Whopper." Macedo also told us that there would be training videos for Burger King’s geniuses hosted by Snoop Dogg and (for the Spanish-language version) Charo. "There are 250,000 team members in the US alone and we want them to feel like this isn’t just any other product launch."
Burger King says it got Snoop Dogg & Charo for internal hot dog training vids. More likely for marketing later pic.twitter.com/JN7wqqq1pb— Candice Choi (@candicechoi) February 10, 2016
It just works. "At the end of the day, all the basics are what we’re gonna follow. We didn’t ‘crack the code’ or anything like that. We just made a hot dog that tastes amazing, that’s affordable, and it’s convenient."
Will it cannibalize sales of the flagship product (Whopper)? "Not really. Our first concern was whether we’d have tradeoff or trade down from existing customers. We didn’t. It was a lot of add-on behavior, so the average check with the hot dog is higher than the average check without a hot dog."
... and apropos of nothing, "we had a lot to learn, but overall the platform is very, very solid."
As far as fast food press conferences go, it was quick, simple, and to the point — one of the food bloggers later told me that a recent KFC event had live music and other spectacle (let’s call them "Samsung" in this analogy).
And then Macedo thanked the audience and we in the media rushed to try the hot dogs for ourselves — first the classic, and then the chili cheese variant. Both dogs felt good in the hand (...) but otherwise tasted like any other hot dog. (Another more mainstream food journalist likened them to Fenway Frank dogs.) That isn’t necessarily a bad thing but the play for Burger King here is less on tapping into the luxury market and more on owning the hot dog market wholesale.
Yes, objectively, these are the ravings of a mad man looking for connections that are both inconsequential and reaching. But it’s also a reminder that every company — from tech companies to food brands to fashion and other (in)tangible products — looks at their product in very commoditized ways, asks similar questions, and sees the consumer in very similar light. The approaches for selling you a $700 tablet aren’t dissimilar to the approaches companies use to sell you two-dollar hot dogs — whether you’re supposed to play with the product or eat it.
The classic dog and chili cheese dog will debut nationwide on February 23rd. There are no plans for preorders.
Chris Plante contributed to this "report."