An executive at the fast-casual chain discusses why it's embarking on a systemwide effort to reduce sodium
In a nod to consumers’ growing concerns about health and nutrition, Boston Market is removing salt shakers from the tables in each of its 476 units.
Officials at the Golden, Colo.-based chain said that the move was intended both to give customers pause before dumping more salt on their meals and to symbolize a systemwide effort to reduce the amounts of sodium in select menu items.
“The act of taking the salt shakers off the tables is very closely tied to the idea that we’re taking sodium levels down in many of our menu items,” said Sara Bittorf, chief brand officer for Boston Market.
Boston Market plans to lower the sodium level of menu items across the board by 15 percent by the end of 2014, Bittorf said. In the meantime, salt shakers will still be available at soft drink stations at Boston Market locations.
“We all know somebody who salts their food before they even taste it,” she said. “We want people to first think: ‘Do I really need this?’”
Restaurant operators have been under fire in recent years for the high sodium content in some menu items. High sodium intake has been linked to high blood pressure, which can lead to heart attack and stroke. The recommended daily limit for a healthy adult, according to the Food and Drug Administration, is 2,300 milligrams — about a teaspoon of salt.
According to Boston Market’s website, one quarter of white rotisseriecontains 710 milligrams of sodium. A serving of macaroni and cheese contains 1050 milligrams, and a serving of mashed potatoes contains 840 milligrams of sodium.
Since 2010, Boston Market already has decreased the sodium in its original recipe chicken by about 20 percent and has also decreased the sodium in itsgravy by about 50 percent, Bittorf said. Within the next six months, the chain plans to lower the sodium level of its macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and rotisserie chicken by an additional 20 percent, she added.
Although there has been talk about possible federal legislation surrounding the amount of sodium allowed in fast food — most recently at the May National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel show in Chicago — Bittorf said growing consumer concern about sodium factored more into Boston Market’s decision to rework its recipes than did fear of future regulation.
“Sodium is going to become another health issue that consumers are very concerned about, and we just want to get ahead of the curve,” Bittorf said.
She also noted that the decision to remove salt shakers from the tables in Boston Market restaurants isn’t going to save the company any money. On the contrary, she said, finding salt substitutes can be pricey.
“Salt is a very inexpensive ingredient, and you usually have to replace it with ingredients that are more expensive,” Bittorf explained. However, she added that customers likely will not see the cost passed on to them.
Bifforf also noted that very few quick-service restaurants in the United States still have salt shakers, opting to offer packets instead.
Although some Boston Market customers aren’t thrilled with lower levels of sodium in their meal items, the reaction so far has been positive, she said.
Further, she noted, the move to reduce sodium on the menu is not intended to rebrand Boston Market as a healthful fast-casual chain. “We just want to have choices for people,” she said.
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