Industry News | July 12, 2016 | QSR Exclusive Brief

It's in the Fluff: Denny's Bets on a New Pancake Recipe

Juliette Fairley

Pancakes are the center of a new Denny’s marketing campaign that was unveiled during a press conference Monday at one of the company’s locations in New York City.

The breakfast-centered chain is launching a new pancake recipe that executives claim is “50 percent fluffier” than the previous recipe. The revised product is part of a new menu of indulgent pancake offerings.

“We are aggressively targeting the modern American family, which is importantly younger and multicultural, and that fits right into our branding and positioning of Denny’s as America’s Diner, open to all,” says John Dillon, chief marketing officer with Denny’s, which is based in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Some 20 staff members from Denny’s training department embarked upon the art of making a great pancake in the test kitchen of one of the chain’s vendors. Sharon Lykins, senior director of product innovation for Denny’s, says there’s more than one leavening agent in the revised recipe. “One leavening agent is activated when it comes in contact with water, and the other is activated by heat,” she says.

Dillon said during the press conference that Denny’s did “not want to settle for OK pancakes anymore,” adding that the new recipe includes real eggs, fresh buttermilk, and “a hint” of vanilla.

After a two-day “Pancake University” earlier this year in Seattle, Denny’s shared the new pancake recipe with the kitchen staff of Denny’s franchisees across the country.

“We had multiple sessions with various employees to inform them of the new pancake to make sure we make it consistently,” says Sam Wilensky, president of Denny’s Franchise Association and owner of six Denny’s units in Mississippi and Florida. “There’s new cooking procedures, new equipment, and new behaviors involved in the training so that we get it right every time.”

More than 90 percent of Denny’s locations are owned and operated by franchisees, Dillon says, but there’s no subsidy being offered for the cost of new equipment. Instead, expenses are being kept to a minimum.

“What we did do is get a good price on all the initial rollout small-ware, like spatulas,” Wilensky told QSR. “There’s a slight increase on a cost-per-pancake basis, but the ROI as it relates to guest perception and return visits will offset that.”

Served with a pair of eggs, hash browns, and a choice of bacon or two sausage links, the new pancake breakfasts range in price from $7.29 to $7.89, according to the menu. Options include Peanut Butter Cup, Banana Pecan, Strawberries & Cream, Blueberry, Double Berry Banana, and Sticky Bun pancakes.

“They are expressly presented as an indulgent pancake for the sweet lover,” Lykins says. “People want to indulge when they dine out. If they want something plain and simple, they stay home.”

In the process of launching the fluffier breakfast staple, Denny’s is freshening up its brand with a broadcast and Internet promotion that includes television commercials, outdoor billboards, Snapchat filters, Facebook Live events, YouTube videos, and a mobile-connected website campaign called “Pancake Rejection Simulator” where visitors to www.Dennys.com can practice telling loved ones their pancakes are now second best to Denny’s. 

In-store displays will feature the Mr. Fluffy pancake character, with whom families dining at Denny’s can have their picture taken.

“One of primary focuses has been on improved food quality,” Dillon said during the press event. “We have changed or improved more than 50 percent of our menu.”

For example, Dillon reported that there are now 300 ways to build an original Grand Slam breakfast for fewer than 550 calories.

“We’ve added chicken sausage, yogurt, and turkey bacon,” he said.

By Juliette Fairley

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