Denny’s Shareholders Cry Fowl, Demand Better Meat Standards

15.5% of Denny’s shareholders vote to ban routine use of human-class antibiotics in meat - to keep the fast food chain relevant

Denny's Headquarters

Denny's Headquarters


It’s tough to be a fast food chain in 2018.

Healthy, environmentally-friendly food is taking off in every corner of society, and the Famous Brands of old are struggling to adapt. They are slow and tentative to move, and they often need a push from their own shareholders.

Today at the Denny’s Annual Meeting, we presented a proposal to the gathered staff, Board, and investors. This proposal, led by non-profit As You Sow and faith group Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica, called for Denny’s to purchase only responsibly-raised meat. In the end, it was supported by over 15% of the company’s stock.

But Denny’s — the 40th biggest restaurant chain in the world with 1,700 locations — has been making only superficial changes to attract new customers. Denny’s Chief Marketing Officer John Dillon says the company is partnering with Star Wars and tweaking the menu:

“We’re all pushing to become more relevant to millennials every day.”

“We have improved or changed over 85 percent of our menu entrees… [including] hand-pressed 100 percent beef burgers and turkey bacon.”

It’s a good start, I’m sure, but it’s not enough. In 2018, “100% beef” is not something to boast about — especially not to millennials.

For example, McDonald’s and other major chains faced protests and boycotts because the meat they buy is pumped full of unnecessary antibiotics. The industry is scrambling to respond: 14 of the biggest 25 restaurant chains have banned the use of human-class antibiotics in chicken; a few, like Chipotle, have done even more.

It’s not JUST about doing the right thing, it’s about staying relevant in a world where consumers are educated and they expect companies to do the right thing.

Why are antibiotics important?

Antibiotics are the foundation of modern medicine, for humans and animals. It’s basic Darwinian science that the more often we use antibiotics to kill bacteria, the more bacteria learn to resist antibiotics, mutating into “superbugs” like MRSA. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are projected to kill 10 million people per year worldwide by 2050.

Global medical experts say that we must use antibiotics only when necessary, especially the type of antibiotics that are prescribed to humans. Right now, about 70% of the human-class antibiotics in the U.S. are fed to livestock. Most of the time, the animals aren’t even sick, but they’re fed antibiotics anyway to prevent sickness in cramped, unsanitary conditions.

Do Denny’s customers really care about this?

Yes. Consumers of every age, gender, and background are buying healthier food from brands they trust.

The 2017 Power of Meat study conducted by the North American Meat Institute found that:

  • Nearly one-third of all consumers said it’s highly important to know that a company shares their values (see Figure 1 below).
  • 66 percent of consumers said that it was important that their grocery store carried meat and poultry products that are free of antibiotics.
  • Only half of consumers were confident in the U.S. food supply and that number is declining. 43% said they have changed eating habits due to food-safety concerns.
  • More than half of respondents aren’t convinced that farmers are taking good care of the environment.
2017 Power of Meat Survey

2017 Power of Meat Survey

Bottom line: this proposal is a Grand Slam for Denny’s, its shareholders, and the planet that we all share.