Holding Their Own
By Bryan Salvage, Editorial Director
Although newer, hand-held options are eating into category sales, hot dogs are still the “top dogs” in many foodservice segments.
Hungry Americans devour approximately 20 billion hot dogs a year, relays a recent poll by Opinion Dynamics Corp. done on behalf of the American Meat Institute (AMI). And as has been the case for decades, many of these dogs are being eaten at a wide variety of foodservice venues.
Foodservice hot dog sales, although very large, are difficult to track precisely, points out the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHD&SC). What’s more, the huge amount of hot dogs sold at concession stands during special events, including carnivals, local youth sporting events, and picnics, just to name a few, are equally difficult to track. In 2001, however – the last year containing foodservice hot dogs statistics -- hot dog processors sold 4.9 million pounds to foodservice establishments.
Variety is key to success
Oscar Mayer, the No. 1 retail brand of hot dog, is also a major player in foodservice. Although all foodservice products come under one brand, they vary in makeup.
“All of our hot dogs are branded Oscar Mayer. We offer several varieties for foodservice in different ordering specifications,” says Tom Schill, business director, Kraft Foodservice. “This includes a wide assortment of beef franks that are available in foot-long links to six-inch length links, as well as our six-inch meat wieners and meat/turkey blend wieners that come in various case sizes [four to the pound, five to the pound, and eight to the pound].
“One area that we are leading the industry in innovation is in specialty links,” he adds. These include Smokie, Jalapeno and Cheese, Smokie and Cheese, Hot and Spicy, Maple Breakfast links, Bratwursts, Italian Sausage, Cheeseburger Link, Italian Sausage and Cheese, Salsa-Seasoned Sausage, and Chili Lime Sausage [with the latter three products being the newest to this line].”
Oscar Mayer hot dogs are sold in most foodservice segments, including quick-serve restaurants, ballparks such as the Arizona Diamondback’s stadium, regional sit-down restaurants, convenience stores, movie theaters, travel plazas, bowling alleys, and the military. Oscar Mayer hot dogs are not sold via vending.
When asked about major trends in foodservice hot dogs, Schill responds: “In foodservice hot dog programs, we continue to see a high level of interest in the segments that require high levels of portability, such as convenience stores, recreation areas, and movie theaters.”
Foodservice demands remain steady for the hot dog, and Schill says his company sees opportunities in the growing convenience store (C-store) segment. But as far as new foodservice hot dog products are concerned, Schill is close to the vest on Oscar’s future plans.
“While we cannot go into detail about future products, we will continue to develop hot dog items that meet consumers’ desire for portable, convenient meal solutions, as well as their ongoing interest in high-intensity flavors,” he says.
ConAgra Foodservice, Omaha, NE, offers a wide array of foodservice hot dogs under five brands.
“These brands include beef franks under the Hebrew National brand, meat and beef franks under the Decker and Armour brands, meat franks under the Healthy Choice brand, and turkey franks under the Longmont brand,” says John P. Punis, manager, category development, Franks and Smoked Sausages, ConAgra Foodservice. “We also offer a large assortment of specialty links and smoked sausages.
“We have products being sold through almost all foodservice channels, including sporting venues, specialty venues [golf courses, ski resorts, etc.], restaurants, convenience stores, schools and universities, health care, and general B & I [business and industry],” he adds. “We have also produced a significant amount of product for the military under the Hebrew National and Armour brands.”
Demand has been relatively flat in the foodservice hot dog market during the past several years, Punis says.
“The biggest reason is due to the increase in other hand-held options, such as pre-made sandwiches, hot pockets, and roller grill Mexican items [churritos],” he adds. “Within the hot dog category, a number of customers are reducing their hot dog offerings and adding specialty smoked sausage items. Another trend is to open up the roller grill to breakfast-based items to utilize the equipment earlier in the day.”
ConAgra Foodservice launched a new line of premium beef franks under the Armour Signature brand late in 2004 to cater to customers “who truly want to offer a high-end beef frank,” Punis says.
“The product incorporates leaner cuts, less moisture, and an enhanced seasoning profile that will perform as well as any beef franks available in the marketplace,” he adds. “We also have commercialized a Black Angus cracked-pepper link that we developed for a customer, and it has sold extremely well.”
  Stadium Number of hot dogs
1. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, CA 1,674,400
2. Coors Field, Denver, CO 1,545,000
3. Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL 1,543,500
4. Yankees Stadium, The Bronx, NY 1,365,000
5. Minute Maid Park, Houston, TX 1,248,000
6. Edison Field, Anaheim, CA 1,133,000
7. HHH Metrodome, Minneapolis, MN 850,000
8. Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, Pa 800,000
9. Shea Stadium, Flushing, NY 745,000
10. U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago, IL 495,000
(Projections for 2005 hot dog consumption in from an annual survey of major league ballparks.)
Source: National Hot Dog and Sausage Council
At present, it looks like category demand will remain relatively flat for foodservice hot dogs going forward, Punis predicts.
“We may well see a continued product mix shift to the specialty links [described earlier],” he says. “Incremental growth may be possible if we can tap the other day parts [primarily breakfast] with new and innovative alternatives to traditional breakfast sandwiches. To accomplish this, we as an industry will need to develop unique, high-quality, and cost-effective products that our customers will be able to merchandise to a more demanding consumer base.”
Baseball and hot dogs
Eating a hot dog is as American as baseball, and the two are as synonymous as, well, Mom and apple pie. In 2005, Americans are projected to eat 24.2 million hot dogs while attending major league baseball games at baseball parks, NHD&SC predicts. The council polled concessionaires at major league parks about projected consumption.
Despite the growing diversity and evolution of baseball-park food fare, which can range from sushi to stuffed baked potatoes, hot dogs still remain the No. 1 product of choice for baseball fans.
“Year after year, hot dogs are a coast-to-coast favorite among baseball fans,” says Janet Riley, AMI senior vice president and public affairs. “Times and fashions may change, but hot dogs are a consistent winner.”
This year, many baseball fans are expected to eat from two to three hot dogs in one sitting. What’s more, an average of 862,702 hot dogs are predicted to be eaten per ballpark this year. Projected hot dog consumption on opening day alone ranged from 8,000 to more than 22,000 per stadium.
Each baseball park offers a signature wiener. For example, the 12-inch Dodger Dog from Farmer John is a big draw at Dodger Stadium; the Chicago-style hot dog (a dog with onions, tomatoes, banana peppers, dill pickle spears, celery salt, and mustard on a poppy-seed bun) is very popular at Wrigley Field; while fans at Jacobs Field in Cleveland opt for their dogs to be garnished with Bertman’s Ballpark Mustard, a local favorite.
Even kids under 12 years of age can get signature dogs such as the Kidsland Dog at Jacob’s Field; the Kids Dog at Camden Yards; the Dollar Dog at HHH Metradome; and the Aqua Sox Dog at Safeco Field.
Looking forward, both traditional and contemporary hot dogs will remain foodservice favorites in the United States, but expect the increasing number of newer hand-held options to continue biting away at sales. NP