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Old dog in a new market

Hofmann German hot dogs – an iconic brand in Central New York – has moved into Western New York as part of a national expansion. The action is sure to trigger hot dog wars with favorite local brands.

"It's the oldest manufacturer of hot dogs in the country; it's an iconic company," said Frank Zaccanelli, CEO of Zaccanelli Food Group, which bought the Syracuse-based company earlier this year. "Hofmann has a legacy of making hot dogs and great products."

In Western New York, Hofmann is moving into Sahlen's country.

"We're not concerned," said Mark Battistoni, sales manager of Sahlen Packing Co. "Sahlen's has always been Buffalo's hot dog, and will always be, in my opinion. We have a 143-year history and commitment to the community."

In addition to Sahlen's dominance, Hofmann is also going up against the four national brands.

But Zaccanelli, a native of Syracuse and a longtime Texas-based businessman, isn't intimidated by local or national competition. He said Hofmann's franks are made with quality ingredients and spices, and have handily beaten national brands in taste test competitions.

Hofmann's white-colored links are being sold in area Weg-mans and Tops stores.
"In Central New York, we are a very dominant product; we out-sell our competition many times over," he said. "We know there are local hot dogs, and we just want to be a part of the mix. We believe taste will win people over. I believe, ultimately, taste will speak for itself."

Battistoni said the Buffalo area is part of the "hot dog corridor," which spans from Chicago to Boston, with regional companies that have been making German-style franks for more than 100 years. And each of these companies claims to produce the tastiest hot dog.

"We are trying to expand our footprint; we all think we have the better product," he said.

Buffalo has one of the highest consumption rates of hot dogs in the country, making it a ripe market for hot dog companies, Battistoni said.

But in the past, other regional brands have tried to push into the Buffalo market without success, he added.

"We've been targeted many times by different companies, but Sahlen's continues to be No. 1 in Buffalo," Battistoni said.

Hofmann and Sahlen's are both open to taste-test contests.

Hofmann Sausage Co. was founded in 1869, but Zaccanelli said the business informally began 50 years earlier. The family-owned brand had been available in Central New York and in New England.

Zaccanelli, the former minority owner and president of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team, has lived in Texas for more than 30 years and had Hofmann's shipped to him. Zaccanelli said he had traveled the world and tried a variety of hot dogs and nothing topped the taste of his hometown brand.

His love of Hofmann galvanized him to assemble a wide-ranging group of investors to purchase the company in May.

"I just couldn't get this Hofmann thing out of my mind, there's nothing like it," he said. "I felt the world needed another great hot dog."

Zaccanelli Food Group's lead investor is the Oneida Indian Nation. Other investors include Syracuse University's basketball coach, a former Dallas Cowboys quarterback, the creator of national chains Fuddruckers and Romano's Macaroni Grill and a former Syracuse police chief.

Hofmann is now in 67 Albertsons supermarkets in Texas and will be sold in 151 Brookshire's supermarkets, also in Texas. Hofmann Hots, a quick-service hot dog restaurant, will open in October in Dallas. Plans call for 50 hot dog stands across the country, possibly in Buffalo.

In the past Hofmann's products had been sold locally, but Zaccanelli said it was done sporadically. The company has finalized deals with area Wegmans and Tops to consistently carry the products. Additionally, the company has invested in billboard and radio campaigns, along with tasting events.

"We are going to take a regional approach to a national footprint," he said.