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Cracker Barrel to grow off-premise offerings

Operator will also introduce a new coffee program, including lattes

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. is tapping into consumer demand for convenience by introducing a platform for off-premise meals for larger groups, executives said Wednesday.

The Lebanon, Tenn.-based operator said it also plans to emphasize value messaging in its advertising and to introduce a specialty coffee program, including lattes, at its family-dining restaurants.

“Studies show that consumers continue to rank convenience as a leading factor in choosing the foods they eat in both food-at-home and food-away-from-home occasions,” said Sandra Cochran, Cracker Barrel president and CEO, in a fourth-quarter earnings call with analysts. “As people are more pressed for time, they will continue to look for meal solutions that offer flexibility and convenience.”

In 2018, Cracker Barrel will focus on growing its expanded off-premise platform, Cochran said, which has been in test this year at 100 of the chain’s 645 restaurants.

“By the end of this quarter, we expect to have completed a systemwide rollout of our new off-premise platform,” she said.

The platform offers meals for small groups of six to 10, or large groups of 18 to 24, that can be ordered online or in-store and picked up at the restaurant, Cochran said. Among the initial 20 entrée offerings are ham, egg and cheese casserole or yogurt and fruit parfait for breakfast, and roast beef with gravy or chicken and dumplings for lunch and dinner.

“We believe we can not only take market share in this space, but also position ourselves long-term as a key player in off-premise business,” she said, which would allow the brand to compete with other segments such as casual dining.

Cochran said Cracker Barrel will more aggressively market value messages of existing and new menu items “in this highly promotional environment.” That will include a $7.99 price point for loaded macaroni and cheese at dinner and biscuit French toast breakfast for $4.99, she said. The initial promotions will be tested in 100 restaurants.

Cracker Barrel also plans a menu-variety initiative with the introduction this year of a new coffee platform with iced and flavored lattes.

“We believe the platform will strengthen our breakfast-all-day offerings,” Cochran said, as well as increasing average check and heightening guest perceptions of menu variety.

For the fourth quarter ended July 28, Cracker Barrel reported that net income increased 5.6 percent, to $53.9 million, or $2.23 per share, compared with $51 million, or $2.12 per share, the previous year. Revenue slipped 0.3 percent, to $743.2 million, from $745.6 million the previous year.

Same-store restaurant sales fell 0.8 percent in the fourth quarter, and store traffic dropped 1.7 percent. Same-store retail sales fell 4.4 percent in the quarter, with declines in apparel, accessories and candles, Cochran said.

Cracker Barrel was founded in 1969 and owns and operates 645 Cracker Barrel locations and five Holler & Dash Biscuit House units across 44 states.

Jill Golder, Cracker Barrel chief financial officer, said the company plans to open eight or nine Cracker Barrel restaurants in fiscal 2018, and three or four fast-casual Holler & Dash units.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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