Those wieners at Disney are sneaking cheaper meat into their hot dogs

casey'sIt's happening everywhere. I would swear that the club sandwiches at Denny's have gotten noticeably smaller in the past two years. Same for the bread at Quiznos. We're all paying the same price for the things we buy, but businesses are upping margins by providing less for our dollar.

Today's culprit appears to be Walt Disney World. Orlando food critic Scott Joseph, who keeps a close eye on these things, announced on his blog that Disney has unceremoniously yanked all-beef hot dogs from the menu at its theme parks and replaced them with a blend of beef and chicken. Mouseheads are not pleased.

A switcheroo like that could conceivably yield a hot dog that's lower in fat, which lines up with Disney's current push to make its meal options healthier (portion sizes have dwindled noticeably there, too). But the theme park titan didn't announce the change -- it was caught doing it by others. And it has not issued an explanation, despite inquiries from journalists such as myself. so it's reasonable to assume that the change had less to do with guests' health than the company's purse. After all, if it was done magnanimously, there would probably have been a press release about it, complete with trumpets, confetti and the liberal use of the word "magic."

Ironically, it's usually only repeat customers who notice when companies do things like this, and it's those loyalists who stand to be most offended by the diminished value for their dollar at their favorite places. You could probably name a half-dozen places near you that, compared to several years ago, are also providing a lower quality or smaller servings for the same price.

They used to say that the free market was supposed to have the opposite effect. When product quality slides, customers are supposed to flee to rivals. Somehow, in this recession, most customers seem to be lulled into a compliant mood. We forgive companies when they lead us down a spiral of decreased value, partly because in our own lives, we face the need to economize every day. Sympathy breeds forgiveness. In this case, with a dash of relish.

Update: After this story was published, Walt Disney World got back to us to confirm the change. It did not explain why, offering this comment instead: "As we review new products we take into consideration quality, ingredients, seasonality, cost, and operational efficiencies before we make any decision."

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