Hot Diggity Dog!

By Lynn Petrak
Special Projects Editor
Frankfurters rank high among consumers as an American phenomenon linking past, present, and future generations.
As all-American — or perhaps even more so — than apple pie, hot dogs continue to be gobbled up by consumers of all demographics. More than seven billion hot dogs are eaten from Memorial Day to Labor Day alone, according to figures compiled for the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, an arm of the Washington, DC-based American Meat Institute (AMI).
On a yearly basis, retail hot-dog sales ring up at nearly $1.65 billion, according to Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), Chicago, IL. The overall 1.6-percent increase in the category accounts for sales gains and losses from major hot-dogs brands showing varying performances over the past 12 months. Among IRI’s list of Top 10 refrigerated frankfurter brands, five companies lost ground, while five others racked up sales increases.
On the foodservice side, sales figures are harder to calculate than on a scannable retail basis. Still, the Hot Dog and Sausage Council estimates that hot-dog producers sold 4.9-million-pounds of hot dogs to foodservice establishments in 2001, the last year for which statistics are available.
Janet Riley, senior vice president, public affairs and professional development for AMI and the Hot Dog and Sausage Council, says the overall good news on consumption can be attributed to the impact of low-carb diets and the continued beloved status of frankfurters, both at home and away from home.
“It is my understanding that the popularity of the high-protein diet, coupled with the overall image makeover that protein has gotten in the last year, is boosting sales of all meat products, including hot dogs,” she notes. “Couple this good nutrition info with their convenience and with the fact that almost no person doesn’t like hot dogs, and you’ve got a solid forecast for the category.”
Although the segment derives the bulk of its sales from traditional ready-to-cook links, new products also make their way into the refrigerated case. In May, Chicago-based Sara Lee Corporation launched a new line of Ball Park GrillMaster franks, in Garlic, Cajun and Smoky varieties reportedly aimed at “meat lovers.” Heeding consumer interest in the Black Angus variety of beef, Reading, PA-based Berks Packing Co. recently introduced a Black Angus hot dog.
To reach the much-discussed convenience-oriented consumer, brands like Kansas City, MO-based Farmland Foods Inc. (which also offers a Black Angus dog) feature updated packaging to include individually wrapped, single-serve franks. Hand-held sandwiches beyond the typical corn dog or pig-in-a-blanket are starting to penetrate this market as well. Lettieri’s Inc., Burnsville, MN, recently launched a line of Wrap Dogs! microwaveable single-serve hot dogs wrapped in pastry.
Meanwhile, as consumers embrace high-protein foods, what has become of those “light” hot dogs? According to the Hot Dog and Sausage Council, approximately 10- to 15-percent of hot-dog sales by volume fall in the low-fat and fat-free categories, although that segment is now growing at a flat rate.