April 5, 2008

The Great Hot Dog Mystery

Something that's never really bothered me but seems to irk everyone else is the fact that it's slightly difficult to find a hot dog package that matches in number of links the number of buns in a bun package. Why this is, nobody really seems to know. Apart from the multiple conspiracy theories I've heard (related to government or no), I've never really heard a substantive answer. So what gives?
A lot of people think the bun company is trying to screw everyone. As if a corporate manager is hiding behind the donettes just across the bakery area, snickering and laughing as he watches helpless customers struggle to find a package of ten buns, give up, and purchase two packages instead. I can just imagine him: "Ha! Now that customer had to buy two packages! My profits will really soar now!" Folks, let's be frank: This is a stupid strategy for any company to undertake. First of all, it's wasteful and inefficient. Second, I know a lot of people who just use bread to make up for the lack of extra buns, and the hot dog tastes just as quickly-made and crappy as before, so no loss. No, this answer doesn't really work, and neither do the conventional ones you hear.
And since nobody had a good answer, I just took a stroll down the hot dog isle at Safeway over Spring Break (not to buy anything, of course-I hate hot dogs...) and took a look at things. What I found, upon inspecting both the packs of tens and the packs of 8 (like Hebrew Nationals), was that most of the packages weighed 16 oz. This seemed an odd coincidence, until my common sense side caught up with everything else. 16 oz is a pound people. Last time you went to the butcher, or looked at the meat isle, what did you notice about how every single package was labeled? Not by the chicken breast, or the number of stringies in the ground meat package-no, it all came in pounds. Well, there's one part of the answer out of the way.
But when I looked at the bakery section, I had little luck. What I found, after inspecting first the hot dog buns, which as usual came in packages of eight, had nothing to with the weight. Indeed, the bakery section seemed to have no rhyme or reason at all. But, once again, my common sense kicked in, and I noticed that most packages that weren't straight loaves of bread came in multiples of two (besides ten). That's why you have packages of six rolls, eight hot dog buns, or a good old dozen doughnuts. I'm not sure if that's the exact answer, but it made sense to me. Maybe bakers don't like ten. Also, I think ten buns wouldn't be as nicely square and compact as eight are, so perhaps bakers are concerned about efficiency of space as well.
Whatever the case, I think we can all agree that there is no conspiracy here-the hot dog and bun CEO's do not meet once a year and discuss how next best to screw the customer. Companies that try to do that generally go out of business (except auto repair shops-why I can never get an honest repair is beyond me). Perhaps I don't have the exact rational reason for this, but at least I've shown that if you think really really hard, you might be able to get past fanciful conspiracies and gladly purchase a second package of buns (the others can be used for something else, right?).


Alan C. Earing said...

"Let’s be frank, people..."
I love it! Very witty.

I happen to love hot-dogs... nothing better than a loaded hot-dog with a tasty cold beer on a sunny afternoon!

I do wonder, though, if bakers had put their TEN buns in a cylindrical bag (like bagels), would there be potential for a pereto-improvement?

I suppose depending on what one views as the role of government, but maybe there is a market failure here and regulation can be used to correct it!

Ha! Now I'm witty.

But seriously, perhaps bakery delivery firms prefer 'flats' of buns and thus deter bakeries from packaging their buns cylindrically.

Perhaps there is something about the shape of bread packaging at play... maybe similar to the shape of soda units (cylinder) vs. the shape of milk cartons (square)...

I now want to ask my baker/grocer the next time I'm in a store to see what he/she thinks...

...that and I now want a hot-dog with onions, mustard, sauerkraut, shredded cucumber and jalapenos and a nice cold brown ale!

Roman Kozhevnikov said...

I think that packages of ten would be too long and would fold over on itself more easily than a package of 8 does. It's like a pillow that's too long; pick it up by the middle and the thing crumples over in half. That wouldn't look very good for the hot dog buns, and it would probably rush some of them. Packages of 6 would be too small, becayse hot dogs usually do come in 8 or 10s. Packages of 12 (3x4) might crush the lower row of 4 buns, which wouldn't be good either.

I think 8 is a happy compromise between too few buns and too many, which would crush the buns.