Will Cracker Barrel Fans Reject Its New Menu?

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

When customers go to Cracker Barrel Old Country Store (NASDAQ: CBRL  ) , the last thing they're looking for is health-conscious cuisine. But that's exactly what the popular chain, particularly among travelers, is starting to give them. Will this about-face alienate Cracker Barrel's core customer base? Not by the looks of it.

At the end of August, Cracker Barrel introduced a line of healthy menu options known as "Wholesome Fixin's." "This new category includes delicious complete meals for under 600 calories at breakfast, lunch, or dinner, all at prices in line with our current menu," CEO Sandra Cochran told analysts on the company's most recent conference call.

The restaurant chain complemented its breakfast menu with options like fresh fruit and yogurt parfaits, as well as multi-grain French toast served with fruit and yogurt. For lunch and dinner, meanwhile, it added pepper-grilled sirloin steaks and oven-fried chicken breast, among other items.

Cracker Barrel's Buttermilk Oven Fried Chicken Breast. Source: Cracker Barrel.

What's perhaps most interesting about the move, however, is that it isn't necessarily designed to boost sales to existing customers. It's intended rather to serve as an enticement for people who may not otherwise be interested in eating at a place with so few healthy options.

"Initially, it was designed to address this -- what we were clearly hearing, which is people were restricting their visits and to address what we call the veto vote," Cochran went on to elaborate. "People wouldn't come because one person in the party said I can't get anything healthy."

The objective of the strategy, in turn, was to change perception more than anything else. "To step back and just remind everyone that Wholesome Fixin's was really designed to address the guest perception that they were limiting visits to the brand because they couldn't find, easily find, something healthy," Cochran said.

And at least thus far it appears to be working. In the most recent quarter, Cracker Barrel's same-store sales were up 2.9% -- 2.5% of which derived from price increases and 0.4% as a result of mix (that is, changes in menu selection).

This success, coupled with strong retail sales, has contributed to an impressive performance for Cracker Barrel's stock. Since the beginning of the year, it's up by 65%, or nearly triple that of the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC  ) , which is up by a comparatively paltry 23%.

On top of this, Cracker Barrel's stock yields a generous 2.6%, or roughly 60 basis points more than the average yield on the S&P 500, which comes in at 1.98%. With this in mind, even if its new menu offerings won't entice you to give Cracker Barrel a try, then maybe its impressive stock performance will be enough to do the trick.

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Read/Post Comments (24) | Recommend This Article (22)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 7:49 PM, Dprince wrote:

    I eat at Cracker Barrel every time I get a chance -- several times a year -- and I LOVE their new menu! I am diabetic and was always a little leery of some of their items because I AM a southern cook and I KNOW what goes in some of those dishes. I can make selections now that DON'T interfere with my diabetes and ENJOY what I eat there. I LOVE Cracker Barrel.

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 8:09 PM, JuergenH wrote:

    3 eggs over well, grits, full size piece of country ham, no biscuits and sausage gravy, no stewed apples. Sweet tea.

    That's all I expect from CB and they do it well.

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 8:22 PM, Kummin wrote:

    Cracker Barrel is a crock. All that hokey "down-home cookin'" baloney. Along the interstate where I am they have signs advertising their "homemade dumplins". Not dumplings, not even dumplin's. Dumplins. To remind us all in spades, make no mistake about it, that they're just reg'lar folks, and serve us reg'lar donw-home cookin'!

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 8:28 PM, TimFeatherston wrote:

    As a white man I am offended by the name "Cracker Barrel" If the Redskins have to change their name so does Cracker Barrel

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 8:47 PM, gp wrote:

    I used to love this place. Not any more! The food is usually cold and taste less now. When it used to be fresh, hot and oh so good. The service used to be amazing. The servers made you feel like you were at home with family. Now they herd you in and out and barely check on you and give you the ticket before you even finish eating and don't even ask if you want desert. I am not going back. Have had way too many problems with food and service to waste my hard earned dollars there. I know now why they are never busy at the one by my house.........bad food and even worse service! what a shame!!

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 8:54 PM, vet212 wrote:

    traditional southern foods cooked in the traditional southern way forget the yankee ways of cooking fried tastes better than baked boiled or broiled there are things that should be baked but chicken aint one no meat truly is

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 9:13 PM, HollyB wrote:

    Kummin, I'm not sure what your point is.... "Dumplins" is the correct plural form of "dumplin," if one accepts the colloquialism "dumplin," which doesn't need the apostrophe for the missing "g." Obviously, this is an over-the-top attempt to be folksy and down home by Cracker Barrel, but I think your point could be made more strongly with another example. Nobody's going to use the correct "dumplings" in this context....

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 9:34 PM, optimusprime01 wrote:

    Kummin seriously i love they're food and yes it is

    down home cookin

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 9:53 PM, saidnuff wrote:

    I STOPPED eating at Cracker Barrel years ago. I know lots of people that have.

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 10:11 PM, gwtx2 wrote:

    Just give me what you had. If I want to eat a low fat, low cal meal, I'll order a salad.

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 10:14 PM, strifle wrote:

    I ate there a few times. The best they had was Campfire Chicken. The rest was basically gunk.

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 10:57 PM, StevenOmni wrote:

    Their long term agenda is to penetrate the California market, which I believe is scarce right now. The surveys from Californians showed that they must add low fat, health conscious meals to their menu in order to win local patronage as they march to the Pacific. Overall, I think CB is great, good food, reasonably priced, the managers stand guard at the kitchen, and the gift shops offer a lot of unique items, plus they vend nostalgia.

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2013, at 12:29 AM, georgiafool wrote:

    I traveled for 10 years and always added Cracker Barrel to my mix. # 1 - I could always get what I was in the mood for # 2 - I ALWAYS bought regional tee shirts or sweat shirts to boast my travels. They have the most unique gift items and I could find gifts for all occasions including Birthdays, Easter, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Christmas....something I would never find anyplace name it............I often stopped just to purchase hard candies you just can't find any place else. Working retail now, I often call into my local and order a bowl of beans or turnipgreens and cornbread to pick up and bring back to work, always rummaging the store while I wait for my order. Something light keeps me on my toes, and I never know what I am going to find.

    If anyone has an issue with quality or service I suggest you take it up locally or if you do and still not satisfied, go to corporate..........overall, I've been happy for 20 + years :-)

    I know I probably sound like a commercial for CB, but I have always loved eating and shopping there.

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2013, at 12:54 AM, mchale207p wrote:

    12/9/2013 there are alot of companies,out there.cracker barrel has it's own store,it isn't just a choice in a grocery store...along with other dairy companies.i was over to friehoffer's dsicount store[i guess that's all i can afford on welfare],last summer,i rode my bike to the new dollar store,downtown[recieved an opening card in the mail] i completely forgot about those companies!after going to stores like kmart and others wal mart geneva ny eastview mall victor ny to shop[going to one stop stores]

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2013, at 1:26 AM, mlc wrote:

    As a Californian that eats on the road at CB any chance I get, keep with the grits and original menu and open a restaurant or three in So Cal.

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2013, at 6:57 AM, aamcadams wrote:

    When I'm flush & traveling, I liked it. But, in spite of what the government says, inflation has eaten every spare penny [EVERYTHING has doubled since 2000].

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2013, at 9:15 AM, stffgpr2003 wrote:

    This is really a non-issue. Cracker Barrel says it's new menu will "compliment" what they already offer. So, what is it the fans will reject - sitting next to someone that ordered a salad? Someone wanted to attract attention to a press release introducing the new healthy menu and created a controversial headline.

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2013, at 9:23 AM, BretC wrote:

    No problem with the add-ons to the menu.

    Just hope they keep all my favorites.

    Love thier country style fried fish dinners.

    The pork chops, meatloaf, chicken and dumplings, chopped sirloin steak and gravy, fried chicken and a long list of southern style sides and vegetables. And the breakfasts are nothing less than spectacular.

    Warning to northerners: all breakfasts are offered with grits, except the Fresh Start Sampler. That's the new 'healthy' version breakfast.

    Being a southerner it is just about the rule, grits just come with breakfast... especially south of Tennessee.

    Once I asked for a breakfast without grits or a substitute. The waitress replied "if you didn't want grits, why did you order breakfast for?"

    Guess she told me!

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2013, at 10:24 AM, Mori wrote:

    Um Tim, You shouldn't be offended. The Cracker in Cracker Barrel is not a racial thing. In olden times the dolf fashioned "soda crackers" were kept in a barrel, and sold per bad, piece or pound or whatever. ( Much like the old pickle barrels, with those huge old sour and delicious Deli Pickles) I am a Diabetic,( like one of the other Commentors) , but am also watching my weight, and 600 calories for a meal is ALOT. But I have eaten there and made decent selections for breakfast that did NOT adversely affect my after meal blood sugars. I don't go often, but I have had a good experience when I have gone in the past.

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2013, at 10:30 AM, deltad wrote:

    I like Cracker Barrel, but have been limited to eating there for a while because of health issues that I control with a strict diet and exercise. I'm looking forward to trying their healthier additions to the menu. I'm grateful for it. When I visit my family, that is where they always want to go.

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2013, at 2:33 PM, ColdHardTruth wrote:

    I had the pleasure to know and work for Dan Evins back when CB was a small company. He had great instincts, was not afraid to step out of the comfort zone, and knew when to pull the plug if something wasn't working. If the current leadership of the company carries on with Dan's philosophies, they will be fine.

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2013, at 3:25 PM, bluetraveler wrote:

    If you watch how much you eat and what you select, this place isn't all that bad. They have cabbage, green beans, butter beans, baked yams (not just the sweet potato souffle thing), baked potatoes, trout, lots of relatively simple, easy-to-identify basic food. Their fare is much better than a lot of places offering shellfish, steak, bloomin' onions, loads of pasta or uberburger with fries. We split meals there (with an added side) - one of us is diabetic - and they are fine with it. Just remember, if you are going out, there's going to be a lot of fat in the dish - so go easy on the volume.

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2013, at 4:57 PM, TheCarGuru wrote:

    I remember going to Cracker Barrel when they had "aigs" on the menu.

    I still frequent Cracker Barrel as they are just a smidge better than Waffle House. There is no denying that the portions have been reduced, and the valuer overall is not what it used to be. It is still a decent place to go for some eggs and grits, just much more big business than it used to be.

    The Cracker Barrels here in Louisville are always packed regardless.

  • Report this Comment On December 13, 2013, at 12:58 PM, sugarie wrote:

    ate there three months ago for the first and only time with my sister. worse food i ever received in a restaurant. it was horrible i should have refused to pay is what i should have done. you could turn the bowl with the gravy in it and it just hung there in the bowl. gross, it was cold and nasty. eggs were so cooked there was no runny yolk and toast and potatoes were way over done. thanks but you can keep that gross cracker barrel. like i said my mistake was paying for a terrible meal. won't happen again cause neither of us will ever go there again.

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