Hot Dogs, Like Crowds, May Be Missing From This Year’s Labor Day

As Americans fill their carts for socially distanced Labor Day barbecues, they may be missing one key ingredient: hot dogs.

Some grocery stores across the country are struggling to keep the product on shelves, due to both soaring demand and continued supply constraints after meatpacking-plant shutdowns crippled the industry earlier this year.

“We’re still seeing some shortages from the packaged side, hot dogs and things like that,” said Vivek Sankaran, chief executive officer of Albertsons Cos., which runs regional grocery chains including Safeway and Acme. The constraints started in March, he said, and the supply issues haven’t fully abated. “I’m sure they’ll get up to speed; it’s not there yet. There’s still some holes.”

Franks tend to do well when the economy sours, and they are a simple meal option for working parents facing the prospect of virtual schooling for the foreseeable future. Add to that a surge in demand ahead of one of the nation’s biggest cookout holidays, and the BBQ favorite is flying off the shelves — when it even gets there in the first place.

Kroger Co. and Walmart Inc., the country’s biggest grocer, didn’t reply to requests for comment.

Since the pandemic began in the U.S., hot dog sales have been higher than last year every single week except one, according to IRI. On average, sales have been about 17% higher than comparable weeks last year through most of the summer, with a more recent uptick in states like Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas where residents stocked up on pre-cooked meats ahead of Hurricane Laura.

To put it another way, the country’s grocers had already sold 83% of the total 2019 volume of hot dogs before this year was even two-thirds over, said Eric Mittenthal, president of the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council.

On the supply side, some plants have been focusing on larger meat cuts and fewer processed products amid worker absenteeism, contributing to the shortages of specific products. Pepperoni, likewise, has been getting more expensive and increasingly difficult to obtain amid production snags at meat plants and high demand for pizza.

Mittenthal says he hasn’t heard anything about supply shortages recently, and the plants that produce the meat are again running near capacity. To him, any constraint are more on the demand side, and it’s been booming.

“Hot dog sales are still very strong,” said Mittenthal. “Things slowed down a bit when prices rose over the summer but over the last couple of weeks things have really picked up heading into the holiday weekend.”

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