Oscar Mayer to Launch Vegan Hot Dogs via Kraft Heinz-NotCo Collaboration

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Chicago-based meat company Oscar Mayer, a subsidiary of Kraft Heinz, is launching a line of plant-based hot dogs, as part of an ongoing collaboration with NotCo. They will debut at Expo West next week.

The two-year-old joint venture between Kraft Heinz and Chilean food tech company NotCo is launching its first plant-based meat product range: a vegan hot dog under the former’s Oscar Mayer brand.

The NotHotDogs and NotSausages, which will be previewed at the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim (March 12-16), mark Oscar Mayer’s first foray into plant-based meat, and the fourth innovation born out of the Kraft Heinz Not Company venture.

“We know people are hungry for plant-based meat options from brands they know and trust,” said The Kraft Heinz Company CEO Lucho Lopez-May. “In launching the joint venture’s first product in the plant-based meat category, we saw an opportunity to satisfy these consumer cravings, leveraging NotCo’s revolutionary AI technology and the power, equity, and legacy of the Oscar Mayer brand.”

Oscar Mayer’s vegan sausages put flavour over everything

vegan hot dogs
Courtesy: The Kraft Heinz Not Company

The plant-based wieners will come in original, Bratwurst, and Italian sausage flavours, and hit US supermarkets in Q2 this year. They’re said to replicate the ‘snap’ of the outer casing and the savoury, smoky taste experience associated with Oscar Mayer’s conventional products.

It’s big news for three reasons: Kraft Heinz is the third-largest food company in North America, Oscar Mayer has been making meat products for over 140 years, and the release of a product in a category that has struggled of late is a sign of confidence in the plant-based industry.

Retail sales of meat analogues dipped by 11% to just over $1B in the year ending January 28, 2024, with volume down by 16.5%. It has coincided with plant-based giants like Quorn and Beyond Meat losing sales (though the latter is doing better than expected), startups like New Wave Foods, Ordinary Seafood and Nowadays being forced to shut, and innovators like Meati and Impossible Foods enforcing staff cutbacks.

Many companies have rejigged their product formulations and lineups to better serve consumer needs, but The Kraft Heinz Not Company said vegan hot dogs and sausage links remain underdeveloped and under-consumed, pointing to a gap in taste and texture expectations for consumers. This is why the Oscar Mayer vegan wieners – made from bamboo fibre, mushroom, pea protein and acerola cherry – are all about a taste-first approach.

Multiple studies have shown that flavour continues to be the main factor drawing consumers to plant-based meat, as well as pushing them away. One global poll from 2022 found that the taste and texture of meat alternatives are as important as conventional meat products for more than 75% of consumers. Last year, a Mintel survey found that taste is the biggest reason putting off Americans from trying meat analogues.

Yet another study revealed that taste is the top consideration for Americans when making grocery decisions, and the top barrier for trying plant-based meat (or purchasing it again, for that matter). And an earlier poll by food giant Kerry found that 73% of consumers feel vegan alternatives should mimic the taste of conventional meat.

This is what Oscar Mayer is honing in on with its new vegan sausages. “What the consumer is expecting is a product replica, a product that looks and performs like the animal-based item,” Lopez-May told Axios, noting that the products will be the “first ones in the bun-length space”.

Speaking to Bloomberg, he added: “Being able to borrow the flavour note, the flavouring systems, and incorporate those into a completely different matrix — it’s a massive technological accomplishment.” It’s a nod to NotCo’s tech platform, which leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning to find the right combinations between thousands of different plant-based ingredients to replace animal-derived foods.

Can consumers shake off the price tag?

oscar mayer vegan hot dogs
Courtesy: The Kraft Heinz Not Company

Oscar Mayer’s announcement comes three months after Impossible Foods said it would roll out a plant-based beef hot dog later this year as well. That product was very much skewed towards the health aspect, and for good reason: hot dogs are the epitome of processed food, with such processed meats categorised as a Class 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organization. Impossible’s product contained 50% less fat, twice the protein and zero cholesterol compared to an animal-derived hot dog.

However, there has been a lot of clamour around plant-based meats, ultra-processed foods and their links to ill health. The overprocessed nature of vegan analogues can be off-putting to many consumers, especially at a time when health is the main reason six in 10 Americans eat meatless diets. But a survey of 2,000 Americans in October found that 82% of consumers eat UPFs, and 43% don’t believe they’re bad for health.

Additionally, nearly two-thirds (65%) would be open to incorporating UPFs in their diets if additional health or nutritional benefits were listed on-pack, which rises to 85% for parents with children under 18. And in any case, Oscar Mayer’s plant-based hot dogs will likely be geared towards flexitarians who are looking to cut down on their meat consumption.

So how do they compare to the company’s own beef franks? The NotHotDogs have 17% fewer calories, 44% less total fat, and 67% more protein, although their sodium content is 40% higher. The Kraft Heinz Not Company stresses that flavour is still the main focus – given they serve as an entry point to the plant-based category – and the sodium can eventually be lowered. “We wanted to make something that tastes great,” Kraft Heinz R&D president Robert Scott told Bloomberg.

The vegan products will also be slightly more expensive, with the NotHotDogs priced at $5.99 for a four-pack, and NotSausage at ($7.99). In contrast, its bun-length franks cost $4 for an eight-pack. But there’s evidence that consumers could shell out: 67% of Americans say they’d willing to pay more for UPFs with more nutritious ingredients that deliver better health benefits, irrespective of their household income.

The new Oscar Mayer plant-based hot dogs and sausages join a crowded category that already includes Field Roast, Tofurky, Lightlife, Upton’s Naturals and MorningStar Farms, and was estimated to be an $828M market last year. But the company will hope that its taste credentials help it stand apart. “At The Kraft Heinz Not Company, our goal is to create mouthwatering, plant-based foods that are delicious and accessible for everyone – from the devoted vegan to the plant-based curious,” said Lopez-May.

The vegan wieners follow the launch of NotCheese Slices, NotMayo and NotMac&Cheese – a plant-based version of the famous Kraft dinner – which leverage the market expertise and distribution channels of Kraft Heinz and the AI-led technology and innovation of NotCo.

Having already entered a new sector in plant-based meat, The Kraft Heinz Not Company now plans to expand into further categories, and has already begun expanding internationally.


  • Anay Mridul

    Anay is Green Queen's resident news reporter. Originally from India, he worked as a vegan food writer and editor in London, and is now travelling and reporting from across Asia. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, food tech, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford comma.

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