With a traffic decrease of 1.4 percent and stagnant restaurant sales growth of 0.2 percent in its fiscal 2017, Cracker Barrel is turning to value, menu variety, and off-premise expansion to draw in more customers.
While the casual dining brand has outperformed many of its competitors, its retail business has been lagging. Same-store retail sales were down 4.4 percent in the fourth quarter and 3.7 percent throughout 2017.
“Our retail team continues to navigate through a very challenging and highly promotional retail environment,” president and CEO Sandra Cochran said in a conference call Wednesday. “We're disappointed with performance in apparel, accessories, and candle categories, as well as with the number of guests making a retail purchase.”
The company plans to expand its off-premise platform after testing it in approximately 100 stores in 2017. The platform will offer guests Cracker Barrel meals for small groups of six to 10 or large groups of 18 to 24, which can be ordered online or in store and picked up.
Cochran says Cracker Barrel is launching the program with more than 20 offerings like ham, egg, and cheese casserole, fresh fruit and yogurt breakfast, and chicken and dumplings.
“We believe we can not only take market share in this space but also position ourselves long-term as a key player in off-premise business within the casual dining industry to expand the program into new opportunities,” Cochran said, adding that the brand also plans to unveil individual to-go strategies.
Focusing on value, Cracker Barrel is testing an everyday menu at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, which it will support with a four-week ad campaign. The value platform will focus on new menu offerings, as well as highlight its current everyday value offerings, and will be tested in 100 locations.
“The enhanced platform is strategically designed with enticing products anchored on an entry level price point at each day part,” Cochran said. “So there will be new product offerings like a loaded macaroni n' cheese dinner at a $7.99 dinner price point and a biscuit French toast breakfast which offers a twist on our current offering (and) brings something new and unique to our guests for only $4.99.”
The company will also emphasize value in its retail segment, highlighting its merchandise offerings and the “quality and exclusivity” of items to place greater emphasis on the price-value relationship. Cochran says Cracker Barrel is working to refresh item assortments regularly to maintain merchandise at affordable prices.
One of Cracker Barrel’s first menu variety initiatives it’s introducing this year will be a new coffee platform, including iced and flavored lattes.
Cochran says the platform will complement the strength of the restaurant’s breakfast all day offerings and will promote guest perception of menu variety.
“I believe a sharp focus on convenience, value, menu variety will create a solid foundation for our long-term strategic plans,” she said. “So we believe it's the right time to invest in our brand to drive top line sales growth, to increase capital spending, additional staffing and store level training, to support not only our 2018 business priorities but also our larger multi-year projects like the introduction of a new POS system, which will provide us with a platform for additional functionality like server tablets.”