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Denny’s to lower salt content of several menu items

SPARTANBURG S.C. As public health advocates continue to pour pressure on restaurant companies to lower the amount of salt in their food products, Denny’s said Monday it is rolling out systemwide a number of reformulations that will lower sodium content in several menu items.

According to company executives, the family-dining chain reduced the amount of salt in its hash browns by 25 percent and is rolling the product out now. It also cut the amount of salt in its cheese sauce and shrimp skewers by 20 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

Furthermore, Denny’s said it eliminated higher-sodium items from its kids’ menu, replacing them with more healthful items such as fruits and vegetables.

All of the lower-sodium items will be available at all 1,500 Denny’s restaurants in June.

Anumber of U.S. health organizations, including the New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, are working with the restaurant- and packaged-food industries on ways to decrease the public’s daily salt intake. Additional city health departments in Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle and the District of Columbia, as well as various counties in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Maine, Massachusetts and Michigan, also are exploring the topic. Some officials of those organizations agree that ingesting excess amounts of salt can lead to high blood pressure, strokes and cardiovascular disease.

In addition to Denny’s, companies including Burger King, Yum! Brands and Au Bon Pain have introduced in recent months initiatives to lower salt content in menu items. Late last year, Burger King said it would reduce sodium in its Kids’ Meals to no more than 600 milligrams each; Yum began serving lower sodium items in its stores in the United Kingdom, Australia and South Korea, and began exploring sodium reduction in Canada; and Au Bon Pain began testing a series of reduced-sodium foods that will roll out systemwide this year

At Denny's, the changes will include both reformatted products and new menu items.

“We took off the Little Dipper sampler effective in June, as well as the [Big Dipper] French Toastix,” said John Dillon, senior vice president of marketing, referring to items deemed inordinately high in sodium by watchdog groups. “We’re in the process right now of finalizing what the replacement will be. We’ve also added carrot sticks and vegetables — things to keep both kids and parents happy.”

According to the website, the sodium content in the Big Dipper French Toastix is 1,068 milligrams, while the Little Dipper with Marinara and Fries has 1,679 milligrams of salt and the Little Dipper with Marinara and Applesauce has 1,504 milligrams.

The American Heart Association recommends that children ages four through eight should consume no more than 1,200 milligrams to 1,400 milligrams of salt per day, and adults should take in no more than 2,300 milligrams daily.

Denny’s executives said the chain also is adding turkey bacon and turkey sausage options to its popular Build Your Own Grand Slam breakfast promotion. That addition also will be available chainwide in June.

According to Mark Chmiel, the chain’s chief marketing and innovation officer, the turkey bacon and turkey sausage products contain 20 percent less sodium and have about 80 percent less saturated fat than the traditional pork variety. The switch to turkey bacon and turkey sausage followed a test last year of lower-sodium alternatives that failed.

“When we originally looked at overall salt content, we did some consumer research and [searched for] ways we could reduce salt in sausage and bacon,” Chmiel said. “But that reduced customer satisfaction to the point where we thought we would jeopardize the business. It was not an acceptable product to our consumers. That’s when we [switched to] the turkey bacon and turkey sausage.”

Chmiel did not say whether the turkey options would increase the price of the Grand Slam breakfast. He also noted that the chain is adding such Better For You choices as yogurt, whole-wheat pancakes and granola to its menu within the next two to three months.

Contact Elissa Elan at [email protected].

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