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Cracker Barrel is working on five pillars of change to bolster the struggling restaurant company.

Cracker Barrel unveils ‘strategic transformation’ amid financial struggles

The restaurant chain will overhaul its menu, redesign stores, and invest in more digital tech as the brand seeks to ‘gain relevance again’

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, a restaurant brand that has been struggling with sales and traffic since the COVID-19 pandemic, wants to be relevant again. That is the main goal behind new CEO Julie Felss Masino’s new “strategic transformation” for the family-dining brand. After several quarters of dwindling numbers — including, most recently, 4% traffic decline for the second quarter ended Jan. 26 — Masino is introducing a brand overhaul that includes five pillars: a brand evolution, menu enhancement, store remodels, digital and off-premises investment, and employee experience improvement.

Since this is a long-term brand transformation, the company expects that FY 2024’s results will continue to be challenged as the company prepares to invest more capital into this project. Cracker Barrel expects to see positive net results from the brand overhaul by the second half of 2026 and predicts that will continue to accelerate in 2027.

“Cracker Barrel is an iconic brand, but even iconic brands have to evolve,” Masino said during a call unveiling the new plan. “We know from our research that despite high levels of consumer affinity, we're just not as relevant as we once were. We need to address these dynamics by refreshing and refining the brand and reflecting this in all of the ways we interact with our guests…. we will take what is known and be loved about our differentiated brand and build upon it so that it's more relevant to today's and tomorrow's guests.”

The first pillar, redefining the brand, largely has to do with modernizing the brand’s marketing strategy to “resonate with today’s guest,” Masino said. Cracker Barrel is working with a new agency to accomplish this by balancing the brand’s heritage with new messaging.

The second pillar is about improving the menu, which will include both simplification (removing poorly performing items) and adding new items. In a store test in February, Cracker Barrel tested out this improved menu with 20 new items and a removal of some items. Several of these items are being added to the menu at all locations this fall, including the green chile cornbread and hashbrown casserole.

Another aspect of change coming to Cracker Barrel is strategic pricing initiatives, which includes creating a barbell architecture to pricing that is more aligned with area and store demographics.

“We believe there's a large opportunity to improve the way we price both across the menu and across doors to hit the sweet spot where pricing at a store is optimized based on consumer willingness to pay competitor prices and store operating costs,” Masino said. “We understand the lower-end consumer is challenged, and value is and will remain an important part of the brand. We will work vigorously to protect it.”

The next pillar of focus is guest experience, which will largely be dictated by store remodel changes coming soon. A pilot test of the store remodel includes introducing a different color palette, more comfortable seating, and simplifying decor and features. The company is also working on another store prototype that’s 15% smaller with the same number of seats, which will be coming in fall 2025. The first new prototypes will be rolling out to 25-30 stores in 2025, with more to come in the future.

Finally, Masino brought up the importance of Cracker Barrel investing in digital technology and off-premises capabilities, especially the new Cracker Barrel Rewards program and catering.

“While it's still early, we're very encouraged by the initial success of the program… after launching in mid-September, we already have nearly five million Cracker Barrel rewards members, which is approximately 25% higher than our initial projection,” Masino said. “We believe this speaks to the appeal and distinctiveness of the program and gives us confidence to lean in even more than we have.”

Contact Joanna at [email protected]m

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