The hot dog is hurting this Fourth of July

The American cookout mainstay can't escape the effects of rising costs -- and changing tastes.

By Jason Notte Jul 2, 2013 7:13AM
Hotdogs on an outdoor grill (© Lauri Patterson/E+/Getty Images)Take a good, long look at your Fourth of July menu. Are hot dogs on it?

We don't mean rabbit sausage served with melted brie, and we don't a mean meat-free hot-dog-shaped vegetarian options. We mean the more standard definition of the term. If the answer is anything resembling "no," you're the reason the hot dog is dying.

Bloomberg Businessweek decided to throw a big bucket of ice water over everybody's Fourth of July fireworks by illustrating the sad state of the hot dog, which was once a staple on the grill. While Americans spent $1.7 billion on hot dogs last year at supermarkets alone and are expected to down 150 million of them this Fourth of July, marketing firm Symphony IRI found that hot dog sales dropped more than 3% in 2012 from 2011. That's after two consecutive years of smaller declines.

So what's putting the kibosh on the hot dog? "Higher raw-material costs" and "higher retail price points," according to the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council trade group. "The rising costs of goods, especially beef prices," said the folks at Hebrew National, whose all-beef hot dog sales are down 5% this year from last.

The bigger issue, however, is changing tastes. Hot dog hotspots such as Hot Doug's in Chicago and Bark in Brooklyn don't shy away from traditional dogs, but they aren't shy about making field-grain-and-potato veggie dogs basting in lard and butter or about stuffing casings full of wild boar, baked ham or duck. When your target audience has been raised on curries, chilis and sriracha sauce, a dog with yellow mustard, some kraut and some token onions seems just a bit bland by comparison.

That said, not every hot dog maker is suffering. Sales at Nathan's Famous (NATH) are up by 17% from last year despite Superstorm Sandy's toll on the chain's flagship Coney Island location. Nathan's annual Fourth of July hot-dog-eating contest is still on, however, even though company execs said there's more to selling dogs these days than just lining up competitors and letting them stuff their faces.

"In tough times, if people are going to eat fewer hot dogs, they often choose a premium product," Nathan's President Wayne Norbitz told Bloomberg. "They choose to indulge."

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Jul 2, 2013 9:44AM
I've noticed that hot dogs aren't as flavorful as they used to be and this  could be the reason sales are down as well.  Nothing seems to taste the same anymore.  Everything seems watered down.
Jul 2, 2013 9:48AM

Hot dogs, or "tube steaks", used to be the affordable option to filling our family's tummies.  They now cost almost $6 a pound, and I can eat a good chuck roast for $3.49 with half the sodium.  We used to eat hot dog gravy (you can stretch 3 hot dogs out for a family of 5 that way!) and use the water from boiled hot dogs to make wiener water soup (no kidding...just add carrots, potatoes, a couple bay leaves, pepper, and roux).  Now, chicken stock is the base for our soups at pennies on the dollar.


The day that companies think nostril meat and jowls pulverized into a gelatinous paste and stuffed inside a sheath is worth $6 a pound is the day I go vegan.

Jul 2, 2013 9:59AM
I adore hot dogs...but they are loaded, for the most part, with a huge amount of salt and preservatives and are no longer a suitable food product for my aging I rarely indulge...bring us a healthier hot dog and more of us might be able to boost sales.
Jul 2, 2013 9:43AM

Maybe, just maybe, people are consuming less hot dogs because we now know that most of them are made of stuff that the average consumer would throw away? "From the heel to the squeal" is a term I heard in NC once.


I only buy kosher beef hot dogs.

Jul 2, 2013 9:25AM


Some company should makeover the hotdog bun. The old ones fall apart before one is done eating it.

Jul 2, 2013 10:07AM
the US is being repopulated with people that could care less about the 4th of July or a hot dog, Bananas, camel soup, maybe some monkey on a spit, roasted iguana. times are changing and the new settlers could care less about our holidays. watch your dog.
Jul 2, 2013 10:21AM
They're losing their appeal because people are stupid enough to believe the media botards on all those food shows that tell them how great all the other crap is.  I'll take a good old fashioned hot dog or hamburger anyday.
Jul 2, 2013 10:22AM

nothing will keep me from my brats, my grill and my beer on the 4th of July


you can listen to mariachi music, eat tacos and beat on pinatas if you want, just leave me out of it

Jul 2, 2013 10:35AM
Ever since meat other than pork or beef was introduced into the hot dogs, the dogs just didn't taste the same.  The meat is has a slimey texture and the smell is terrible.  Oscar Meyer used to make a classic dog that was pure pork (after the advent of their usual turkey and pork dogs) that was a larger and more flavorful dog but now even those have left the market.  You just can't find a good PORK hot dog.  Same goes for bologna.  Remember what happened when Coke messed with their successful formula?  It's time the hot dog makers give us purists what we want--the original formula for the hot dog.  Take the crap out of them and make them like they used to -- pork and spices.
Jul 2, 2013 10:18AM
Most hot dogs today are mostly water and "filler". Never mind the scrap meats, they barely use enough to pass a taste test. The old stand by of hot dogs and sauerkraut with mashed potatoes is rarely heard of due to the lack of flavor in most but the expensive brand of hot dogs which are now sold as gourmet and too expensive for quick meals for kids. Hell, bacon, liver and onions used to be a good cheap meal to serve the family. Have you priced "cheap meat' like liver lately?
  Our buying power keeps going down, while the price of everything goes up. Tough meats like pot roast are now considered fancy dining.
Jul 2, 2013 10:32AM
Damn it, I love a good dog piled high with relish, onions, mustard and jalapeno's! Not to be eaten on a regular bases but nothing can beat an ice cold beer and a couple of dogs on a nice summers day! It's an American icon!

Hot dogs today are nothing like the hotdogs when we were kids.


Jul 2, 2013 9:24AM

This 4th of July will feature my famous Stuffed Cheese, Bacon Wrapped, Smoked , "Mike'y Dogs." They will be served on a whole wheat bun with chopped onions and my version of the Coney Island Lunch chili. (No Ketchup or Mustard need apply)



Jul 2, 2013 9:28AM

Our house is planning to make the Chicago dog hotdog for one of our meals over the long 4th of July weekend.  There's probably millions of households that will do the same over the four-day weekend.

Jul 2, 2013 11:16AM

I rarely eat hot dogs, but get a taste for one or two every now and then..  However, the last time I had a good old Ball Park Frank it's casing was like shoe leather, it didn't taste the same, and it kept oozing this reddish liquid.  I don't know what they've done to change them, but now I know why people no longer eat them.  Disappointing to say the least!


Jul 2, 2013 9:53AM
The reason is that we all read the article about processed meat aka hotdogs are now not fit for human consumption. STOP CRAMMING DEATH DOWN OUR THROATS!!!! Monsanto probably edited this....
Jul 2, 2013 10:31AM
Hot dogs don't resemble hot dogs anymore. A real hotdog looks and tastes like a beef braut. 
Jul 2, 2013 10:04AM
Nothing better than a straight up Nathan's hot dog from Coney Island. But the dirty water dogs from the venders in Manhattan are still amazing too.
Jul 2, 2013 11:03AM

The manufacturers of food and health nuts are ruining the sales of many foods. If the folks would go back to making products as they did in the fifties and sixties the items would go back to selling again.

I am referring to things as real butter,hotdogs and even cereral. Hotdogs and hamburgers and fries have in recent years been more or less ruined.

Jul 2, 2013 10:33AM
It's been a while since I put a condiment on my weenie.
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