Hot Dog
Hot dogs may seem minor, but the outcome of a lawsuit could have a huge effect on the marketing you see. Image: Flickr / TheCulinaryGeek / CC-BY

Advertising and marketing claims often come with a thicket of difficult legal questions. Today, the makers of Oscar Meyer hot dogs and Ball Park hot dogs started their face-off in court. The issues at hand may seem minor, but millions of dollars and the way you shop could be affected by the outcome of the lawsuit.

Oscar Meyer and Ball Park face off

For the last three years, the maker of Oscar Meyer hot dogs, Kraft Foods, has been facing off with Sara Lee, maker of Ball Park hot dogs. In 2009, Kraft Foods was sued by Sara Lee for advertising taste test results that Sara Lee did not feel were fair. Kraft counter-sued, claiming that a 2009 advertisement by Sara Lee calling Ball Park “America’s Best Franks” was false advertising. An additional counter-suit was filed by Sara Lee, questioning Kraft’s use of the phrase “100 percent pure beef.” This mess of legal suits and counter-suits today went in front of a judge in Chicago’s federal court.

Legal issues surrounding hot dog wars

The legal issues involved in the hot dog wars are quite meaty. The taste-test comparison, often a mainstay of advertising, is the first issue. These taste-tests may or may not be valid unless the test is conducted in a way that presents the products as “customarily consumed.” In short, should hot dog taste tests be required to include buns and condiments, or can they be the hot dog alone?

The second issue is much more likely to have an effect on the packaging you see in the store. The phrase “100 percent beef” indicates that the product is made entirely with beef. The lawsuit, however, questions Kraft’s use of that phrase when a “100 percent beef” hot dog actually contains fillers, spices and many other products that are processed to turn beef into a hot dog.

How this lawsuit could affect you

Though this lawsuit may take years to work out, it will have an effect on the packaging you see in stores. The regulations that surround packaging and marketing are already dense, requiring any statements to be backed up by supporting evidence. What, exactly, is “factual,” however, can be very heavily debated. For small food producers or startup companies, the regulations regarding food packaging can represent thousands, if not millions, of dollars of investment.


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Chicago Tribune:
Christian Science Monitor:

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