The Rise of the Wiener

Staff Writer

With barbecue and baseball season in full swing, you don’t need to be Bobby Flay or Babe Ruth to enjoy a hot dog.  Indeed, it seems that so many Americans are taking to the tube steak that the U.S. market for hot dogs and sausages is expected to grow by 17.5% between 2012 and 2013, according to John Frank, an analyst, in a recent market report on this meaty issue.

“Hot Dogs and Sausages in the US,” the report prepared by Mintel Oxygen, predicts the rise of the wiener will grow from the $8.2 billion sold in 2012 to reach $9.6 billion in 2013 and cites demographic factors, such as the higher consumption in households with children and in African American households as driving up the sales.

Mintel concludes, “Household penetration of hot dogs and sausages is relatively high: more than eight in 10 respondents say their households eats hot dogs, while more than three quarters of respondents say their household consumes sausages.”

Additionally, the sluggish economy has been boosting sales of these affordable meats, with 43% of survey respondents agreeing with the report’s hypothesis that “hot dogs are an affordable meal.”  At Gray’s Papaya, a famed Hot Dog restaurant in the Upper West Side and West Village of Manhattan, a recession special boasts two hot dogs and a 14 oz. drink for $4.45.

On a recent warm spring day, Akm Hossain, 45, was selling hot dogs at a stand outside Central Park at 100th Street.  Originally from Bangladesh, in the three years that Hossain was worked in the stand, he’s “never eaten a hot dog,” he told us  He’s watched its popularity rise, however.  For $2.00 (the price has stayed the same throughout Hossain’s tenure), “they can make lunch.  They’re cheap.  Cheap and good,” said Hossain.

But not all consumers are just fixated on affordability, according to Daniel Kosberg, 29, the manager at Jeff’s Gourmet Sausages in LA, which was rated one of the top 10 places to grab a dog in Los Angeles.  In his 7 years working at Jeff’s, Kosberg said he’s seen a surge in the sausage.  “Regular hot dogs are for kids,” explained Kosberg. “Once you have a more refined palate you can move up to different kinds of sausages.”

To some it’s palate; to others, it’s the kitsch. “The whole hipster generation tends to like to go back to the retro style things,” said Kosberg. “People find sausages to be an old school product.”

The actual age of America’s beloved bratwurst dates back to the 19th Century, according to John Ayto in “The Diner’s Dictionary.” There are various legends as to the origin of the name, including a caption in a cartoon by T.A. Dorgan that appeared in the New York Journal and a 1894 reference to students at Yale University calling carts where hot sausages were sold in buns 'dog carts.'  Many sources indicate that in 1913 the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce, or the hot dog capital of America, banned the use of the name on fair signs because of its connotations to dog meat.  The Chamber of Commerce could not be reached for comment or verification.

100 years later, you won’t see any vendors complaining about the term along the boardwalk of Coney Island.  Nathan’s Famous, the hot dog so synonymous with this little piece of Brooklyn that a Seinfeld episode was devoted to it, has grown from boardwalk stand to hot dog conglomerate, with franchises and branded retail products.  The company reported in their latest financial statement a sales increase of 3.1% from the same quarter last year, to $11,862,000.  Nathan’s committed to purchasing $4.3 million of wholesale hot dogs during the January to March, 2013 period.  That’s no banana stand.

But according to a 7-Eleven spokeswoman Margaret Chabris, the 24-hour chain is the number one retailer of hot dogs in America.  Sales “sky rocket Christmas day” as people get hungry waiting for the Christmas dinners, Chabris told us.  Throughout the recession, 7-Eleven’s wiener sales “remained relatively consistent” to their “time sensitive, value-driven customers.”

“In general, the hot dog market is always good,” said Eric Mittenthal, the vice president of public affairs at the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council.  “Easy to eat, handheld, inexpensive,” are the virtues to which Mittenthal extolls upon the frankfurter.

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Not all professionals are as enthusiastic about the footlong, though.  Stacey Antine, a registered dietician with a Master’s of Science in Food, Nutrition and Dietetics and author of “Appetite for Life” describes hot dogs and other highly processed meat products as gateway foods to more processed food choices for children.  “I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, or picnic,” she said, “but they shouldn’t be a staple in children’s diets.”  The sodium, nitrate and nitrite levels can lead to hypertension, she said.  However, even Antine admits their appeal. “I grew up in New Jersey,” she said.  When her family would drive into New York City, “one of the treats was a hot dog.”