NEW YORK - Burger King is unleashing a new weapon on its fast-food competitors: the hot dog.
The Miami-based chain says it plans to put hot dogs on its menu nationally for the first time starting Feb. 23. It may seem like a jarring addition for those who know the chain for its Whoppers. But Burger King says its ability to flame-grill meat makes hot dogs a natural fit on its menu.
"This is probably the most obvious product launch ever," said Alex Macedo, president of Burger King North America.
With the launch, Burger King says it will offer hot dogs at all 7,100 of its U.S. restaurants. Smaller chains that sell hot dogs include Dairy Queen and Sonic Drive-In.
The move comes as Burger King works to push up sales amid intensifying competition, with McDonald's (MCD) offering breakfast items all day to spark a turnaround, while Wendy's (WEN) offers a "4 for $4" deal to get customers in the door.
In 2014, Burger King's sales rose 2.1 percent at established locations in the U.S. and Canada. But parent company Restaurant Brands International (QSR), which reports results for 2015 next week, has struggled. Its stock, which was at $30.47 in early afternoon trading, is down nearly 17 percent this year and remains well off the 52-week high of $45.71.
By contrast, McDonald's shares have surged this year after the company reported a jump in sales over the last three months of the year.
Tests of the hot dogs in a handful of cities last year resulted in unspecified sales increases, according to Burger King. The food-review website The Impulsive Buy noted the hot dogs seem "small and not quite substantial enough" but otherwise gave them a positive review.
Still, fast-food history is riddled with menu flops, and Burger King is no exception. In 2013, for instance, the chain launched lower-calorie fries called "Satisfries." They failed less than a year later.
Macedo recalled another Burger King failure from the past.
"At some point, they tried popcorn. They would give it away for free to guests in the restaurants. I wasn't here, but I hear a lot about the popcorn days," Macedo said.
Burger King's "Grilled Dogs" will come in two varieties. The "classic" hot dog will be topped with ketchup, mustard, chopped onions and relish, and 310 calories. The company suggesting franchisees sell it for $1.99. A chili cheese version has 330 calories, with the suggested price of $2.39.
To get workers excited, Burger King says it enlisted Snoop Dogg and Charo to star in training videos for making the hot dogs. The company says they're internal company videos, but the chain may be planning to use them in some way for marketing purposes.