NEW YORK – Almost one-quarter (23 percent) of consumers only eat hot dogs during grilling season, according to new research from Mintel, a leading market research firm.

Mintel also discovered that health concerns may contribute to the decline of hot- dog consumption outside the grilling season. Twenty-six percent of consumers said they would eat more hot dogs if they were lower in sodium, while 15 percent said hot dogs are too processed. Another 33 percent said they would eat more hot dogs if they were more nutritious.

“More than half of those who are eating more/about the same amount of hot dogs and sausages compared to a year ago agree that they are trying to eat healthier these days,” said John Frank, category manager, CPG food and drink. “This indicates that low-fat and BFY products will likely appeal to a majority of users. Few of the leading brands are marketing low-sodium hot dogs, indicating a niche that could help boost sales.”

Some food companies are answering the call for better-for-you franks. Oscar Mayer created a new line of meats tailored to consumers who are looking for hot dogs and other meat products free of artificial preservatives, flavors and colors. Austin, Minn.-based Hormel introduced its Natural Choice brand of chicken sausage last spring. Additionally, Ball Park Lean Pork Franks and Lean Beef Franks launched in January meet USDA Lean requirements and contain no artificial colors, no artificial flavors and no by-products.

Another key for future growth in the category lies in recipes, as 12 percent of survey respondents said they would eat more hot dogs if they knew recipes that incorporated them. Currently, grilled and served in a bun is the most popular way consumers (88 percent) prepare sausages, hot dogs and franks, according to Mintel.