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Kayem Foods targets frank-loving Floridians beyond the ballpark

If you dig the new Rays Dog, here's some good news for you: The hot dog's maker now serves up franks and sausages at St. Pete Times Forum.

If your response is, "Not so much" — well, tough. Kayem Foods, a century-old family-owned New England company, has big dreams for Florida.

It now provides "the official frank and sausage" not just for the Tampa Bay Rays and the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the University of South Florida Bulls and the Florida State Seminoles. You can find Kayem franks at Florida grocery chains Publix and Sweetbay. You can buy one at Ferg's Sports Bar before a Rays game — or any time.

And that's just a start, says Kayem senior brand manager Bob Kufferman, who recently spoke with the Times from his office in snowy Chelsea, Mass. The company sold $32 million in Kayem-branded franks last year, making it the No. 7 frank nationally — up from 16th just two years ago. It's now the hot dog of the New England Patriots. So you'll just have to get over the gall of a company that also makes the Fenway Frank for the Boston Red Sox. Next time you crave a hot dog, you might be staring at a blue Kayem cart.

So, help me out here: hot dogs and hockey? Your first two ballpark franks were the Fenway Frank and the Rays Dog. Why not stick with baseball, where hot dogs are the top seller?

One of the attractions was, during the baseball offseason, we want to make sure we're still providing our franks to sports fans, and to Floridians. … Since the Lightning are under new ownership, I know they're looking to really increase the profile of the team, by reinvesting in the team and the arena. … We wanted to really be part of that growth with them.

Will franks at St. Pete Times Forum have a name? The Bolt Dog? The Hockey Stick?

The Lightning Dog? I believe that for right now, we'll stick with Kayem beef franks. And then we'll see. In the future, we might change things. But the reality is, people love hot dogs. They go well with sports. And what we see is that our partners are just great ways to activate our brands.

After the Rays Dog launched at Tropicana Field in April, you said they were selling "really, really well" — vendors ran out of 10-inch franks the first two weeks. How did sales go from there?

We were really happy with the result. The Rays were really happy with the results that they saw. … We were hoping to get a little further into the playoffs, but unfortunately, their time came up.

Kayem's Facebook page reaches out to Rays and Red Sox fans. Anyone give you grief about serving division rivals?

Oh, boy. Yeah, we kind of have to walk a fine line, especially when the playoff race heats up. We do get a lot of people asking, "How can you be promoting the Rays Dogs?" from fans in Boston, and fans in Florida saying, "How can you promote the Red Sox?" … It does cause a little bit of rivalry, I have to be honest with you.

You guys are the No. 1 brand of franks in New England. Why the recent Florida focus?

It's interesting — we were actually getting a lot of calls and e-mails from people in Florida saying, "We wish we had better hot dogs down here." … We find once they try our hot dog, they're really surprised. This is what a real hot dog is supposed to taste like.

How do Florida hot dog habits differ from those in New England? Surely we must buy more of them in the winter — when Floridians break out the grills and Northerners put them away.

Yeah, there definitely is more year-round grilling down in Florida. People love to be able to go out on a bright, sunny day and put franks on the grill or sausages on the grill. … Up here, there is a very strong and fast summer season. … I guess they're kind of more dedicated to the frank in Florida. … It's a feel-good, happy food.

Would you like to make it a Tampa Bay trifecta and invade the home of the Buccaneers, Raymond James Stadium?

You know, we want to serve franks pretty much everywhere people can enjoy franks. We're open to talking to more teams, because what we find is that we've created a really nice model with the Tampa Bay Rays with how to create a good partner, and really activate the brand. We're looking to roll that out throughout Florida.

Becky Bowers can be reached at bbowers@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8859.

Kayem Foods targets frank-loving Floridians beyond the ballpark 01/25/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 4:42pm]
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