Who Will Be Winner of Wiener Wars?

Ball Park has beef with Oscar Mayer claims; Oscar Mayer says Ball Park claims don't cut mustard

NORTHFIELD, Ill. & DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. -- Chicago prides itself on its hot dogs (sans ketchup, of course). And two Chicago-area companies, Kraft Foods Inc. and Sara Lee Inc., are steamed at each other over just that. Kraft, said to be worried that its Oscar Mayer Wieners are losing their market position as America's top hot dog, launched a massive and "misleading" ad campaign against Sara Lee's Ball Park franks, an attorney for Sara Lee told a judge, according to a Bloomberg report.

Sara Lee has sued Kraft and accused it of deceiving consumers with the claim that its [image-nocss] franks are 100% beef and lying about taste-test results, said the report. Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft has countersued, claiming that Downers Grove, Ill.-based Sara Lee is falsely advertising how its product fared in a contest.

Kraft engaged in a "massive and unprecedented" campaign to mislead consumers, Sara Lee lawyer Richard Leighton told U.S. Magistrate Judge Morton Denlow at the start of a nonjury trial in Chicago. He said the campaign was driven by Kraft's fear that Ball Park sales would eclipse those of Oscar Mayer.

"We stand by our advertising and continue to believe our ads were fully substantiated. We believe Sara Lee made claims in its advertising that the company knew would mislead consumers. We would have preferred to resolve this without a trial but it was not possible. We look forward to the court's decision," Kraft spokesperson Sydney S. Lindner told CSP Daily News.

Sara Lee did not respond to a CSP Daily News request for comment by press time.

Sara Lee sued Kraft in 2009, alleging it violated Illinois laws prohibiting deceptive trade practices. Sara Lee, challenging the composition of Oscar Mayer 100% jumbo beef franks, seeks unspecified money damages in the trial.

Kraft has accused Sara Lee of violating the state's deceptive-trade laws by claiming its Ball Park Angus Beef Franks won prizes they did not win. Kraft also seeks unspecified money damages.

Oscar Mayer "knew it had a better product," Kraft attorney Stephen O'Neil said in his opening statement cited by Bloomberg: ?"It won the taste test convincingly," over the Ball Park brand and ConAgra's Hebrew National, "because it knew it had a better product."

Sara Lee's lawyer, Leighton, spoke for about two hours as he challenged Kraft's claims that its product is pure beef. Sara Lee's complaint says that Oscar Mayer Wieners contain water, salt, corn syrup, paprika, dried garlic, spices and other ingredients.

Leighton said Kraft's assertion that its hot dogs had been chosen as America's best-tasting in a national test was "literally false."

Kraft touted that claim in print, broadcast and Internet advertisements including one TV add Leighton said had been shown more than 366 million times.

Denlow interrupted Leighton several times, saying that Sara Lee's complaints about the language in Kraft's marketing campaign may be too literal.

"I don't want to leave common sense outside the courthouse door," the judge said.

He also questioned Sara Lee's claim that its product was best because it had won an award conferred by a San Francisco-based group. "How would 10 chefs in San Francisco know, when they've never been to Chicago or tasted a Chicago hot dog?" Denlow asked.

The case is Sara Lee Corp. (SLE) v. Kraft Foods Inc., 09-cv-03039, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

(Click here for previous CSP Daily News coverage of the Kraft-Sara Lee red hot rivalry.)Andclick here for an ABC News report.