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Cracker Barrel looks to reverse 3.5% traffic decline in Q4

The family dining chain is betting on fried chicken to lure customers.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store is fast-tracking an operationally challenging new fried chicken offering, in hopes that the menu item will be craveable enough to reduce slumping traffic at the family restaurant-retail hybrid.

Traffic declined 3.5% for the fourth quarter ended Aug. 3, the company announced Sept. 18. Same-store sales dropped 0.4% during the period.

The poor performance was due to several factors, including lower-than-expected sales of the annual Campfire Menu limited-time offering, an ineffective media strategy and the fact that consumers in key states drove less than anticipated during the quarter, CEO Sandy Cochran said during a call with analysts.

“I’m concerned with our traffic trends,” Cochran said.

After tests last fall, a four-piece fried chicken dish is being rolled out systemwide. It’s currently available in 45 stores, with plans to offer it at 170 additional stores before Thanksgiving, she said. The fried chicken, which requires new kitchen equipment to prepare, will be available in all units by next summer.

“It exemplifies the craveability our guests desire and has potential to drive increased traffic and sales,” she said.

The impact of Hurricane Florence on Cracker Barrel is currently unknown, company executives said. About 37 stores along the East Coast were closed or operated under modified hours during the storm, and five stores remain closed due to floodwaters, executives said.

The company has no plans to expand its fast-casual Holler & Dash concept in 2019, but that was part of the strategy all along, Cochran said.

Next year will be spent tinkering with all aspects of Holler & Dash, she said: “When we’re ready, we’ll continue expansion.”

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