NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. hopes that lightening up its menu will help fatten its bottom line.
The Lebanon, Tenn.-based restaurant chain is testing several new menu items that contain fewer calories that comparable items. The goal: To attract health-conscious diners who otherwise bypass the
chain famous for its traditional fare of fried chicken, sugar-cured ham,
cornbread and other Southern staples.
Cracker Barrel said the new menu category, called Wholesome Fixin's, will feature
breakfast meals with fewer than 500 calories and lunch/dinner meals with
fewer than 600 calories. Pamela Smith, a registered dietitian,
nutritional author and consultant based in Orlando, Fla., developed the
"We're currently testing the category with the expectation of adding
it to the menu this summer," Sandra Cochran, the company's president and
CEO, told analysts during an earnings call last week.
The company said it would not offer further comment. Smith also declined to comment, calling it "premature."
an analyst who visited Cracker Barrel locations in Richmond, Va., one
of the markets where Wholesome Fixin's is being tested, recently wrote
that new menu items include:
-- A grilled catfish brushed with
orange marmalade and a seasoned pecan crust with a serving of roasted
vegetables on the side. It was listed as having 300 calories.
baked chicken breast dipped in a buttermilk-blended dressing and coated
with seasoned, toasted cornflake crumbs. Its 360 reported calories
include a side of roasted vegetables.
-- A breakfast sandwich
consisting of whole-wheat flat bread, eggs and Colby cheese, with fresh
fruit on the side. It has 390 calories, according to the menu.
ranged from $3.99 to $7.99 for breakfast plates and $6.99 to $9.49 for
dinner plates, Davenport & Company analyst Jeff Omohundro wrote in a
recent research note.
It's hard to tell how those items compare,
calorie-wise, to others on Cracker Barrel's regular menu because the
company does not disclose nutritional information. It is not required to
do so, but that will change under a provision of the 2010 federal
health care law that will take effect once final rules are adopted,
possibly later this year.
Cracker Barrel said the new menu is in
response to consumer research, which showed more patrons were eating at
the restaurant less often because they felt its food "was too
indulgent," Cochran said during a recent investor conference.
we had healthy items on our menu, we needed to do a better job of
pulling them together, highlighting it for our guests, and making it
easy for them to find them," Cochran said at the Wells Fargo Retail
& Restaurants Summit in October, according to a transcript.
part of the chain's efforts to boost sales at its 621 locations and
broaden its appeal. The company also plans to begin selling Cracker
Barrel-branded meats, glazes and other food items through grocery stores
and other retailers, although a trademark-infringement lawsuit filed in
January by foodmaker giant Kraft could disrupt that plan.
Barrel becomes the latest restaurant chain to increase its healthy
offerings in response to Americans' changing tastes, said Sarah Jane
Bedwell, a registered dietician and nutritionist in Nashville, Tenn.
"Over the past two or three years I've seen a lot of chain restaurants adding healthy options on their menus," she said, calling Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar one of the trend's leaders. "I think it's great because the more options you have, the more likely you are to eat healthier."
Industry analysts also praise the strategy for its potential financial benefits.
believe these menu introductions further demonstrate the company's
commitment to improving menu offerings that meet guest needs at
affordable prices, and could help benefit incremental traffic as the
menu initiatives resonate with the more health conscious consumers,"
Omohundro wrote in a December research note.
expert, though, said Cracker Barrel isn't being aggressive enough.
"Cracker Barrel is doing the right thing, but too cautiously and too
slowly," said Aaron Allen, a restaurant marketing consultant based in
The chain should offer more healthy dishes and
charge more for them, making it easier to later raise other menu prices
and boost its average check size, he said. Cracker Barrel's average
check size rose by 3.1 percent in the most recent quarter, driven by a
2.6 percent increase in menu prices.
(Duane Marsteller, The Tennessean)