Cracker Barrel is in a battle for relevancy. One of her solutions is surprising


New York
CNN

Julie Felice-Masino, CEO of Cracker Barrel, recently offered a frank and devastating assessment of the brand: “We’re not as important as we used to be.”

Masino, who became CEO in July, laid out the diagnosis — and treatments — in a presentation to analysts in May. And it raises questions for those accustomed to the brand’s biscuits and gravy, wooden tables and chairs, brainteasers and front-porch rocking chairs.

“The way we communicate, the things on the menu, the way stores look and feel…all of these things came up over and over again in our research as opportunities for us to really reclaim our relevance,” she said.

The renovated Cracker Barrel Old Country Store (full name of the brand) could include remodeled restaurants with bookcases instead of mesh dividers and brand new banquet seating. New Cracker Barrels may be smaller restaurants altogether, with menus that include new items like green chili cornbread and banana pudding. Clients may see brighter interiors with simpler decor, a move away from the typical cozy chaos.

These changes are still being tested. Something new happening now? Discounted dinner from 4 to 6 p.m

Why would Cracker Barrel, so desperate for relevance, resort to a tactic commonly used to attract older people? This is partly because many people eat early these days. And partly because he’s looking for a quick fix.

Jeff Greenberg/Universal Image Collection/Getty Images/File

A woman eats lunch at Cracker Barrel.

First opened in 1969, Cracker Barrel has long billed itself as a roadside spot where weary travelers can stop for a hearty meal in a down-home dining room, as well as choose from a wide array of knick-knacks at its country store. This idea, which largely appealed to baby boomers in the past, has not resonated well since the pandemic.

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Last year, when other diners returned to restaurants after the early pandemic years, it was Cracker Barrel’s Older customers remained wary, visit the chain less often. Now, retail stores are taking a hit Consumers are cutting back on spending. These same dynamics play out in her restaurants.

In the three months ended April 26, Cracker Barrel’s total revenue fell 1.9% from a year earlier, the company reported Thursday. Retail sales at stores open at least 18 months fell 3.8%, while restaurant sales fell 1.5%.

Wall Street was unaffected: The company’s stock is down nearly 37% this year and has fallen nearly 70% over the past five years. The Tennessee-based chain has approximately 660 locations, which can be found across the country.

These new early bird deals, which launched in February, are available Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. They start at $8.99 and include discounted portions of Cracker Barrel’s signature country foods, like meatloaf and chicken.

Masino did not explicitly mention specials during the discussion about Cracker Barrel’s long-term strategy. But she referenced the offer during the company’s earnings call on Thursday. “It’s a big part of our overall pricing strategy,” Massino said.

In some ways, offering an earlier mealtime is an ideal solution — it may appeal to budget-conscious coronavirus-wary seniors and younger consumers who eat early.

“Six o’clock is the new eight o’clock,” said Lisa W. Miller, a consumer strategist who has served as a consultant to large restaurant chains through her firm, Lisa W. Miller & Associates. “That four- to six-year time frame…could attract a younger family as well.” the The Wall Street Journal announced over the summer That “America became a nation of early birds.” In recent years, Late night dining options It has diminished.

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Fewer people visited Cracker Barrel before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m. in the first quarter of this year compared to that period in 2019, according to data from Placer.ai, which uses location data from mobile devices to estimate visits to restaurant and retail locations. Specific. Instead, the chain saw “an increase in late-morning visits and lunch visits,” said RJ Hottovy, head of research and analytics at Placer.ai. There was also an increase in the late afternoon, but smaller. The discrepancy “may explain the focus on early bird specials,” he said.

Miller noted that luring younger consumers during that earlier period will depend to some extent on how the company announces the deal. “It’s all going to depend…on the creative executions – how are they going to follow through on that?”

Cracker Barrel was so eager to speed up the promotion that it only recently began advertising the special, Massino said Thursday.

John A. said: Breaking the association between early diners and older people will be difficult, said Gordon, founder and CEO of Pacific Management Consulting Group, a restaurant consulting firm.

“It is known in this country that older people go out to eat early,” he said. “Even though this is changing… it’s ingrained in people’s psyche, which is that this is for older people.”

The company expects it will take years to revamp its brand, operations and restaurant models. But it needs to start improving sales sooner. Right now, consumers want deals.

Fast food companies are Once again they are fighting over dollars and cents, with several $5 packages being offered. Casual restaurants e.g Chili’s and Applebee’s compete for customers With their special offers.

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To compete in this environment, Cracker Barrel knows You must offer some kind of deal. He seemed to have decided that an early dinner was the way to go.

Gordon said there was a risk the show could become too popular. If too many people choose to dine at discounted prices, margins and profitability will suffer.

“They face the dangers of Red Lobster here,” he said. “They put out something that’s really popular and then they get caught up in it.”

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