Could new tastes & better breads upscale hot dogs?

August 12, 2014

Plenty of new recipes from ballparks and restaurants may fuel homegating – and more hot dog sales year-round.

Originally published on Facts, Figures & the Future

Hot dogs hold a special place in America’s hearts – especially at baseball parks and backyard barbecues.  The two aren’t disconnected:  Food upgrades at stadiums in recent years have brought new, creative recipes to fans at the games that could inspire productive cross-merchandising beyond the classics mustard, cole slaw, ketchup, sauerkraut and buns in supermarkets. 

Consider these, compiled by ScoreBig:

  • The Polish Hill Hot Dog, where the Pittsburgh Pirates play
  • The Poutine Dog, where the Detroit Tigers play
  • The Crab Mac’n Cheese Dog, where the Baltimore Orioles play
  • The Taco Dog, where the Texas Rangers play
  • The Italian Hot Dog, where the Tampa Bay Rays play
  • The Island Dog, where the Kansas City Royals play
  • The Sea Dog, where the Seattle Mariners play
  • The Halo Dog, where the Los Angeles Angels play

Moreover, restaurant chefs and specialty food trucks have grown fonder of hot dogs as a protein base.  Their creations show off the versatility of hot dogs that supermarkets have yet to leverage, F3 suggests, in either prepared food offerings or inventive cross merchandising with pastas, vegetables, rice, cheese, seafood and more.  

The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC) says Americans buy 350 million pounds of hot dogs a year in U.S. stores – about 9 billion hot dogs.  That’s more than 1 billion packages representing nearly $2.5 billion in retail sales in 2013, says Nielsen.  

In all, the Council estimates the nation consumes 20 billion hot dogs a year (about 70 per person) – and cites Heartland Buffalo figures that 9% are bought at ballparks and 15% from street vendors.  According to IRi data, adds the Council, 38% of hot dog sales occur between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Because hot dogs are portable and neat to eat, they suit many venues – from fairs, carnivals, picnics, and many kinds of sporting events besides baseball (such as car racing, football, basketball and hockey) to exhibitions such as competitive eating contests. Kroger is among chains that set up pop-up shops where many thousands of people tailgate, such as major NASCAR racing events. 

So why couldn’t supermarkets promote hot dogs and other grill foods year-round for homegating – where friends and family gather to watch major sports events on TV, such as playoff series and the Super Bowl?  Especially with new recipes to emulate, home entertainers could pull off cool, fun events at home.  Supermarkets could take two paths: sell prepared foods, or assemble foods and related items for grilling at home.

As reported by Bloomberg, unit sales of refrigerated frankfurters slid about 1% in 2013 following a 2.9% decline in 2012, and dips in the prior two years, according to data from IRi, a Chicago-based market research firm.  So foodservice interest in frankfurters, which in turn could spark more buying for home consumption, could be timely.  

NHDSC says hot dogs already penetrate 95% of U.S. households.  F3 says upscale hot dogs could be the ticket to higher tickets and category growth in supermarkets year-round.  Food stores could take a page from eateries and use better breads and buns to raise the innate appeal of hot dogs.