By John Cox
From the land of tri-tip sandwich fundraisers and 24-hour biscuits-and-gravy sales now comes this: hot dogs made from whole carrots.
Don’t act surprised. Despite its red-meat reputation Bakersfield is home to the country’s two largest carrot growers, the invention of the popular “baby carrot” snack and a carrot-focused innovation lab employing 15 food scientists on East Brundage Lane.
There’s nothing to be scared of, either. Bolthouse Farms, the local ag giant that on Tuesday unveiled the “carrot dogs,” says the grill-worthy product looks and tastes like frankfurters, thanks to the company’s proprietary flavor-infusion process.
“If you close your eyes and you bite into it, you think you’re eating a hot dog, from a sensory and from a flavor experience,” said Phil Kooy, the company’s chief customer officer. “But it’s obviously a carrot.”
That actually sounded pretty good to Erik Estrada, owner of the Wienerschnitzel hot-dog location on Ming Avenue. He figures Bakersfield will eat carrot dogs right up.
“There’s a lot of health fanatics in Bakersfield and so they tend to like to try different things,” he said. Spices may be the deciding factor, he added, because “if it tastes like a carrot then they’re not going to want to eat it.”
Also making their debut Tuesday, in time for a major food convention ending Thursday, were no-carb pasta and rice “swaps” that Bolthouse makes entirely from carrots. Six to eight minutes on the stove and health-conscious consumers have part or all of a meal.
Like the hot dogs, they were brainstormed and developed in Bakersfield — and will be produced and packaged locally as well when the trio, each available in three different flavors, hits U.S. supermarkets next spring.
The products are a big part of Bolthouse’s bold and somewhat contrarian step into the growing market for plant-based meat and carbohydrate alternatives.
Rival Bakersfield carrot giant Grimmway Farms has been innovating lately, too. At the start of this week’s virtual Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit Conference & Expo the company introduced rainbow carrot chips — dried, wavy-cut carrot snacks in a resealable, 12-ounce bag — along with baby bok choy in three-count clamshell packaging.
Both companies have for years been expanding their traditional strengths in farming and fresh produce.
At Grimmway, that has led to a focus on organic farming, juices and packaging that weighs less and involves less waste than conventional materials.
Bolthouse has taken a different route after being sold last year by New Jersey-based Campbell Soup Co., which made a high-profile turn away from refrigerated juices and premium salad dressings.
Under the leadership of Jeff Dunn, the man who had served as Bolthouse’s CEO years earlier, the carrot grower proudly makes smoothies, cafe refreshments, protein beverages and “superfood immunity boost” drinks.
The products announced Tuesday are aimed at a growing market for foods geared toward “flexitarians” who don’t necessarily want to avoid meat all the time but see the health and environmental sustainability value of keeping to a plant-based diet.
Kooy emphasized the carrot dogs are not chopped or formed into a new shape but actually soaked in a brine solution that imparts flavor. The company is working on a particular breed that mimics the size and shape of a standard hot dog, he said.
“It’s not a franken-food in terms of a really long list of ingredients you can’t understand,” he said, adding the full trio of new products developed at the company’s “innovation center” on East Brundage are basically just carrots.
When they appear in grocery-store produce aisles next year, the products are expected to cost $4.99 for a package of eight carrot dogs. For the same amount of money consumers will be able to buy 15-ounce carrot fettuccine or riced carrot kits.