By Peyton Majors
Christian Action League
September 29, 2023
The country-styled restaurant Cracker Barrel has lost customers for two consecutive quarters, and a leader within the pro-family movement says the company’s abandonment of conservative values is partially to blame.
Cracker Barrel president and CEO Sandy Cochran said this month that foot traffic in its stores decreased in the last quarter and likely will continue to decrease in the current quarter, according to food website Eat This, Not That. In June, Cochran revealed that foot traffic had dropped 3.2 percent in the quarter than ran through April.
Cochran blamed the decline in foot track on a “challenged consumer environment” — the economy — and on a series of other factors, including higher prices (Cracker Barrel upped its prices 8.7 percent during the previous quarter) and customer experience, according to the website. Cochran announced a new loyalty program.
“The volume and substance of our marketing messages in the fourth quarter were not as effective as we’d wanted, particularly against the backdrop of a highly competitive and promotional marketplace,” Cochran said.
But Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said Cracker Barrel’s embrace of LGBT activism — it celebrated Pride Month on its social media accounts — and its selling of alcohol have chased away its core base.
“I think Cracker Barrel is overlooking an important dynamic to their loss of customers,” Creech said. “Whoever is now leading the restaurant chain has a blind spot. Whenever a company decides to make changes in line with its values and business strategy as Cracker Barrel has, it will undoubtedly have an impact on its customer base and financial performance.
“Changes that are perceived as inconsistent with a company’s traditional values or customer base can alienate long-standing customers. In the case of Cracker Barrel, introducing alcohol sales and supporting LGBTQ causes has upset some customers who had different expectations from the brand. Customers who feel that Cracker Barrel no longer aligns with their values or beliefs become less loyal and choose to spend their money elsewhere.”
Creech noted that the American Family Association and the Christian Action League both released statements criticizing Cracker Barrel for its Pride Month stance.
“When prominent national organizations such as the American Family Association or state-wide advocacy groups like the Christian Action League call for protests against a company’s policies or practices, in most cases it leads to negative publicity and damages the company’s reputation,” Creech said. “A decline in customer traffic, as observed in Cracker Barrel’s case, leads to reduced sales and revenue. This negatively impacts the company’s financial performance and stock value.”
It’s essential, Creech said, for companies to “carefully consider the potential consequences of any significant changes, especially when they involve issues related to values, ethics, or social causes.”
“Balancing the desire for growth and innovation with the need to maintain customer trust and brand identity can be a delicate task,” Creech said “Companies may choose to engage in thorough market research, stakeholder feedback, and impact assessments before implementing major changes to minimize potential negative effects. I can only wonder if Cracker Barrel did this before making the changes they made. More importantly, it seems that they are failing to take this into account as to why they are experiencing the losses they are now.”