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Nathan's hot dog contest parts ways with champion Joey Chestnut over plant-based frank partnership

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Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog-Eating Contest contestant Joey Chestnut stands next to the Nathan's mascot Frankster, ahead of the official weigh in ceremony in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., July 2, 2021.

Angus Mordant | Reuters

The Nathan's Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest will be down one dog this year.

Major League Eating announced Tuesday that it's parting ways with 16-time champion Joey "Jaws" Chestnut ahead of this year's competition, hosted by Nathan's Famous.

Chestnut was previously offered a $1.2 million, four-year contract with MLE to participate in the hot dog competition, a source familiar with the matter told CNBC.

The decision to end the relationship comes after Chestnut chose to represent a rival brand that sells plant-based hot dogs, the organization told CNBC in a statement. The New York Post reported that the brand is Impossible Foods, though the company didn't immediately provide a comment.

An account on X under Chestnut's name late Tuesday said he was "gutted" to find out from the media that he was "banned" from Nathan's hot dog eating contest this year. CNBC has not independently verified the account.

The post also said: "To set the record straight, I do not have a contract with MLE or Nathans and they are looking to change the rules from past years as it relates to other partners I can work with. This is apparently the basis on which I'm being banned, and it doesn't impact the July 4th event."

Impossible Foods offers plant-based hot dogs, which the company claims to be healthier and more eco-friendly than the traditional meat version, with half the saturated fat of the animal version and 84% less greenhouse gas emissions generated.

For nearly two decades, contestants, including Chestnut, have worked under the same "hot dog exclusivity provisions," the MLE said in a statement.

"Joey is a great champion and a friend, and he is loved in Coney Island and all around the world. So I hope he's there on July fourth as we celebrate Independence Day and he changes his choice to promote a veggie hot dog rather than ours," Major League Eating President Richard Shea told CNBC.

The MLE said it worked with Nathan's to accommodate Chestnut's requests, including allowing him to compete in a rival unbranded hot dog eating contest on Labor Day to be streamed by an unnamed major platform.

Joey Chestnut holds the Guinness World Record for eating the most hot dogs in 10 minutes, a title he won at the annual hot dog eating contest in 2021. 

Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island, New York, is a Fourth of July tradition and broadcast nationally on ESPN. It's also a marketing strategy for Nathan's Famous, whose signature offering, the hot dog, is on a decline.

Particularly with the rise of health-conscious eating habits and the increasing importance of the wellness trend for consumers, the American staple food hot dog is one of many processed foods whose sales have been hurting.

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