Americans spent $ 1.7 billion on hot dogs last year—and that’s just at supermarkets; it doesn’t count wieners purchased at restaurants and sports facilities or from street vendors. And no day is better for hot dog consumption than the Fourth of July, when Americans are expected to eat about 150 million of them—enough to stretch from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles more than five times.
While those numbers are impressive, overall hot dog sales are declining. According to figures from IRI, a Chicago-based market-research firm, sales dropped more than 3 percent in 2012 from 2011, following two consecutive years of smaller declines. Figures for this year are looking soft as well. The slump is surprising in light of the sluggish economy—hot dogs are usually considered the ideal recession foodstuff.
Illustration: Jennifer Daniel; Hot Dog: Getty; Guinness World Records
Ronald Plain, a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Missouri, offered a few possible explanations for the frankfurter’s failing fortunes. Hot dogs are particularly popular among children, for example, so America’s declining birth rate may be to blame. Changing immigration patterns and demographic profile may also play a role. Janet Riley, president of the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, a trade group, sees other factors at work. “Higher raw-material costs are leading to higher retail price points,” she says. “Consumers are very sensitive to that.” Ryan Stalker, brand manager for Hebrew National, whose sales are off by 5 percent this year, agrees. “The biggest challenge facing our industry is the rising costs of goods, especially beef prices, over the past few years, which
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