Sandra B. Cochran, CEO of Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores (NASDAQ:CBRL), said, "We continued to outperform our peers in the Knapp-Track casual dining index for the tenth consecutive quarter." While undoubtedly Cracker Barrel beat an index that includes seafood restaurants and bar & grill restaurants, the reality is that many of its more closely related peers within the niche have done better.
Cracker Barrel describes itself as a "friendly home-away-from-home" with "real home-style food" where you are "cared for like family." Although it's not a perfect comparison, it sounds similar to IHOP of DineEquity (NYSE:DIN), which considers itself a family restaurant with "warm and friendly service," and then there is the family restaurant Denny's (NASDAQ:DENN).
The home-style results
Cracker Barrel reported fiscal third-quarter results on May 28. Revenue inched up 0.5% to $643.3 million. Same-store sales slipped 0.6% due to a 2.9% slash in guest traffic. Cochran blamed "severe winter weather, a challenging consumer environment and an increasingly promotional competitive landscape."
Maybe the "increasingly promotional competitive landscape" that Cracker Barrel is suffering from refers to DineEquity's IHOP and Denny's. Julia A. Stewart, Chairman and CEO of DineEquity, pointed out that the IHOP chain in the most recently reported quarter "overwhelming outperformed its category," and it looked like Denny's was not far behind. Perhaps the cold just made everybody want a hot breakfast and these two are known a bit better for that than Cracker Barrel.
Hopping on a grand slam
Denny's has now reported same-store sales growth for 11 out of the last 12 quarters. In its most recent quarter reported, same-store sales popped 3.2% at company-owned stores and franchisees saw an 1.7% gain. It was the biggest quarterly increase in same-store sales for company-owned spots for Denny's in over seven years.
Meanwhile, DineEquity reported its fourth quarter in a row of same-store sales gains for IHOP. IHOP saw a 3.9% gain while its Applebee's concept slipped by 0.5%. This provides some evidence that bar & grill restaurants may have faced a more challenging environment than family style ones.
But Cracker Barrel isn't doing badly
Just because Cracker Barrel isn't keeping up with IHOP and Denny's doesn't mean it's doing badly, though. Its adjusted net income did soar 20.6% to $1.23 per diluted share. For the full year the company expects to report adjusted diluted earnings per share of between $5.50 and $5.60 compared to $4.97 last year for growth of between 11% and 13%. Not too shabby.
Cracker Barrel's bright spot was its retail-store sales. Although these make up a relatively small minority of its overall revenue, it's still a decent chunk at around 19% of its revenue last quarter. Same-store sales with retail inched up 0.9%, which was carried by a big leap of 11% for the month of April alone. Could that be a sign of better retail sales to come? It will be interesting to watch.
Cracker Barrel isn't the most exciting investment in the world, but it's a steady grower of earnings with some pockets of strength here and there that are encouraging. I just wouldn't necessarily classify it as outperforming its peers.
The conference call is worth a listen as the company has a number of initiatives through which it will attempt to accelerate its sales, profit margin, and net income. However, this Fool plans to stay on the sidelines until I see more compelling numbers as plenty of other restaurant stocks seem more enticing and truly beat their peers, including DineEquity and Denny's.