For the cost-conscious consumer, Cracker Barrel offers two programs: weekday lunch specials, which start at $5.99, and country dinner plates, a mix-and-match combination entree for $7.69.
“We have plans to kind of revitalize our weekday lunch special program within this fiscal year, add new products that will add reach on an everyday basis, so think of things like our LTO this past winter, where we had a sandwich and soup offer, and adding in reach,” said Christopher Ciavarra, senior vice president of marketing, during a May 28 call with financial analysts to discuss third-quarter earnings. “Our country dinner plates are in market right now. We’ll continue to message against that.”
During the quarter, Cracker Barrel added more value offerings that included a new beef and mushroom pot pie, a country house salad with grilled chicken and baked potato or soup, baked chicken and dressing, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, and turkey and dressing.
The chain also expanded its Wholesome Fixin’s lower-calorie menu with five promotional items, which included a citrus spiced rub chicken breast, oatmeal topped with apples and cinnamon, a smoky southern trout, a steak and egg breakfast, and a southern Caesar salad with grilled chicken. Cracker Barrel said its Wholesome Fixin’s menu, which was launched last year, has fared well with consumers who seek lighter options.
“It's done a good job at improving perceptions around offering fresh, healthy options, if you will, fresh ingredients, restaurant I can trust, things like that,” Ciavarra said. “We’ve seen positive movements in those perceptual measures. We plan on continuing to add to that category. We’ve got a variety of new products coming that will add reach and margin.”
Limited-time offers also figure into Cracker Barrel’s menu plans, with a focus on bold and contemporary flavors. The chain’s summer menu promotion includes campfire chicken and campfire beef, which feature roasted meat and vegetables served in a foil packet.
“And then a little further out in the future … a mid-line dinner, for lack of a different description at the moment, a category that would fit between our country dinner plates and our Fancy Fixin’s that would pull from some existing products, some new products, and feature bolder flavors,” Ciavarra said. “That’s what’s on the horizon for us.”
Another strategic priority for the company has been expanding into grocery channels. Cracker Barrel during the quarter gained distribution for its licensed bacon products and introduced applewood sliced bacon and five types of sliced-to-order deli meat.
“Earlier this month we introduced two types of jerky, exclusively in our Cracker Barrel retail stores, and will continue to build on our licensing platform throughout the calendar year,” said Sandra Cochran, president and CEO.
Continued headwinds from severe winter weather and competitive challenges hurt traffic during the company’s third quarter.
Comparable restaurant sales fell 0.6 percent during the third quarter, reflecting a 2.9 percent drop in traffic that was partly offset by a 2.3 percent increase in average check.
For the third quarter ended May 2, the company earned $28,728,000, equal to $1.21 per share on the common stock, up 17 percent from $24,602,000, or $1.04 per share, in the prior-year period.
Revenues for the quarter totaled $643,298,000, up 1 percent from $438,425,000.