Cracker Barrel, which is a subsidiary of CBRL Group Inc. based in the Nashville suburb of Lebanon, has grown from one restaurant in Lebanon in 1969 into 550 full-service restaurants and gift shops in 41 states, mostly in the Southeast, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Southwest.

Food coloring

- Cracker Barrel adds color photos 1,500 billboards to lure more diners.

By Rose French

The Associated Press

NASHVILLE - Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. is changing its ubiquitous highway billboards for the first time in six years as the restaurant chain struggles with declining sales.

Gone is the company's simple brown-and-gold graphic of a man seated next to a barrel, and in its place will be color photos of food items like pancakes and biscuits on nearly 1,500 billboards primarily along U.S. interstates.

"Our research shows these images are highly motivating when a person decides where to eat," Simon Turner, chief marketing officer at Cracker Barrel, said in statement released Wednesday.

"Seeing our homestyle food and unique gifts prominently displayed on our billboards will motivate people to come and eat at our family dinner table."

The new advertising campaign, which begins this month, comes as sales in the restaurant and retail sides of Cracker Barrel's stores have been in steady decline over the past few years.

Several key officers were replaced in July, including Cracker Barrel's president and chief operating officer and vice president of marketing. The company said the reshuffling was part of a planned reorganization that would focus on initiatives aimed at improving sales, margins and brand innovation.

Analysts say sales have gradually started to improve, with Cracker Barrel's parent company CBRL Group Inc. reporting restaurant sales increased 1.4 percent and retail sales were up 4.4 percent for the first quarter ended Oct. 27 over the same period last year. Revenue was up 4.3 percent to $558 million for the same period.

"They've gone through several years of difficulty and have changed a number of activities and brought some people into key positions and are working hard at trying to improve their results," said Bryan Elliott, a restaurant analyst at Raymond James & Associates in Atlanta.

"Certainly the billboards have been a primary marketing tool for pretty much the history of the company," he said. "Upgrading and modernizing ... makes some sense. They haven't really modified their approach."

Elliott said the company has recently conducted consumer research that showed a significant percentage of people who believe Cracker Barrel locations are just retail stores and not restaurants as well.

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