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Friday, 24 August, 2001, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
WienerMobile rolls on
Oscar Mayer's newest WienerMobile
The newest WienerMobiles are state-of-the-art
By BBC News Online's North America Business Reporter, David Schepp

Since it made its debut 65 years ago in the waning days of the Depression, the WienerMobile has toured the United States as a promotional vehicle for Kraft Foods' Oscar Mayer unit.

This year, the manufacturer of luncheon meats, bacon and hotdogs, has undertaken the Great American WienerMobile Tour, which runs until the end of October, sending a fleet of six floating frankfurters touring the country.

The first WienerMobile, 13 feet of metal on wheels fashioned to resemble a hotdog, made its debut in Janesville, Wisconsin, in 1936, in the waning days of the Depression.

What started out as a mere way to differentiate Oscar Mayer from dozens of other competitors, has evolved into a piece of Americana akin to Barbershop quartets or county fairs.

As the company grew after World War II, a new WienerMobile was built for each plant location.

Local black-and-white television commercials featuring the roaming hotdog ran in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

During the height of the first US energy crisis, the WienerMobile was phased out as the company instead focused on national advertising to reach consumers.

The original 1936 WienerMobile
The original 1936 WienerMobile was just 13 feet long
But the tradition was reborn in 1986 when the company began celebrating the WienerMobile's 50th anniversary.

Americans love hotdogs

Wisconsin-based Oscar Mayer has been around since the late 1800s. And while it did not invent the hotdog, it certainly has done well out of selling them.

Americans love hot dogs, consuming more than 20 billion of them in 2000, 9 billion of which were purchased in retail stores.

More than a third are eaten in the three months between Memorial Day and Labor Day, which mark the beginning and ending of the US summer season, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council.

Manhattan hotdog vendor
New York's dozens of hotdog vendors speak to frankfurters' popularity
The Council estimates Americans ate more than 2 billion hot dogs during National Hot Dog Month, which is held in July.

It is that sort of enthusiasm which may explain the huge crowds that often greet the WienerMobile when it comes to town, often to as much fanfare as the fair or circus.

"People get excited," Oscar Mayer spokeswoman Sarah Delea told BBC News Online.

The WienerMobile staff do not cook nor sell hotdogs, she adds. Rather, they deal in promotional items, such as T-shirts, bean bag toys or magnets.

But the WienerMobile staff usually carry coupons in case someone has a hankering to buy some hotdogs. But they will have to settle for buying a package of franks in the store and returning home to cook them.

Good for you?

Hotdogs have remained a mainstay of the American diet despite a heightened awareness in recent years of the high levels of fat and cholesterol that most meats contain.

The average hotdog, for example, contains 184 calories, of which 136 are derived from 17 grams of total fat.

A hotdog also contains 576 milligrams of sodium, 6 grams of protein and 32 milligrams of cholesterol, according to the US Food and Nutrition Information Centre (FNIC).

"Generally, an average regular old hotdog is going to have a [large] amount of fat in it," says Diane Quagliani, registered dietician and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

"When we think of nutrition and hot dogs, that's where some of the concern comes into play," she told BBC News Online.

The high levels of fat and cholesterol are a concern for many Americans, who already battle with being overweight. The US government in recent years has called on Americans to limit their intake of red meat - unsuccessfully.

Still, a spokeswoman for the FNIC said, compared to a McDonald's Big Mac hamburger, a hotdog is healthier.

"The fact is that if you love hotdogs - which many, many people do - there's no problem with fitting them into your diet," says the ADA's Quagliani, adding that they should never be eaten raw.

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