Consumer Trends

Cracker Barrel says it's winning back silver-haired fans without discouraging young newcomers

The highwayside family dining restaurant chain also said it is growing its share among value-conscious consumers.
Cracker Barrel
Cracker Barrel says it is getting both older and younger consumers. / Photograph: Shutterstock

Watch out for wheelchair and stroller collisions as Cracker Barrel steps up its two-pronged effort to increase guest traffic during fiscal 2023.

Management explained to investors Friday that the chain succeeded during the first quarter ended Oct. 28 at winning back patrons aged 65 and older. That cohort is essential for the general-store-themed chain, but currently one of the toughest to capture because of the pandemic. Knowing they’re more susceptible to a severe case of COVID-19, seniors have been particularly reluctant to resume eating in restaurants, executives explained.

“We were encouraged by this result and are cautiously optimistic that we will see further improvements with this cohort over the balance of the year,” Cracker Barrel CEO Sandy Cochran told financial analysts.

Yet the chain’s efforts to win back traditional customers did not hamper a simultaneous effort to increase visits by younger customers and their families, particularly ones under 34 years of age, executives stressed. Patrons of a younger age responded well during the quarter to Cracker Barrel’s menu updates and increased use of social media as a marketing channel, the officials said.

The brand expects guests of a younger vintage to respond particularly well to the rollout of a loyalty program in the fourth quarter.

Officials also cited “visitation gains” from lower-income consumers who appreciated Cracker Barrel’s emphasis on value during a time of considerable economic uncertainty.

Overall, Cracker Barrel’s same-store restaurant sales for Q1 topped the year-ago figure by 7.1%. However, prices topped 2021 levels by about 8%, indicating that traffic slipped a point.

The chain said it will persist in its efforts to draw more seniors even as it sweetens the appeal to a younger crowd.

“Even though we have seen some improvement in our trend with our 65-plus guests, there is still quite a bit of recovery left for us with that group,” remarked Cracker Barrel CMO Jennifer Tate.

Despite that emphasis, the company is accelerating the development of its secondary concept, Maple Street Biscuit Co., a breakfast-and-lunch brand with a strong following among younger consumers. The corporation said it intends to open 12 to 17 units of Maple Street this fiscal year, after opening three in the first quarter. 

It expects to have three or four more Cracker Barrel restaurants open by the end of the fiscal year.

Overall, the company generated a net income for Q1 of $17.1 million, down 49% from the same period of a year ago, on revenues of $839.5 million, up 7%.

The company said margins were compressed by high food costs, particularly for poultry, dairy and produce purchases.

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