Cracker Barrel Reloads Marketing Arsenal

ATLANTA After a year of corporate restructuring, Cracker Barrel plans a more aggressive marketing campaign next year, the company said.

“We have a very established and well-known brand and we are trying to leverage it as best we can,” said Chris Tomasso, vice president of marketing at the Lebanon, Tenn.-based restaurant chain.

Tomasso, former vice president of worldwide marketing for Hard Rock International, joined Cracker Barrel in September 2003. Since then, he has added a director of advertising and a director of market research and changed the company’s management structure to require the public and guest relations, product development and e-commerce departments to report to him. The changes will help the marketing department find advertising and promotions for programs or products the departments develop, he said.

Earlier this year, he led a cooperative effort between the company’s product development and marketing departments to introduce seasonal menus five times each year. Each seasonal menu is available for two months and is supported by four weeks of radio ads.

Tomasso also has increased Cracker Barrel’s 29-year association with the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn. The company now is the radio program’s first title sponsor, with the Cracker Barrel name associated with all the Grand Ole Opry’s advertising. Previously, it was one of many sponsors who got little more exposure than signs within the Grand Ole Opry’s auditorium.

To address a lingering lawsuit accusing the company of discriminating against black customers and employees, Tomasso hired the Atlanta office of Publicis Groupe’s PR shop, Manning, Selvage & Lee, another first for the company. Cracker Barrel agreed in September to pay $8.7 million to end the lawsuit. MS&L will help the firm communicate the changes to customers and employees and promote positive stories about the company and its more than 500 restaurants.

Cracker Barrel continues to research how to improve the country store part of the restaurants, which contributes about 25 percent to total revenue annually. The company already has begun using its own label on the syrup it sells and has produced a music CD of the vintage songs and commercials that play in the restaurants.

Tomasso said he expects other changes during the next year.

“It’s an evolutionary process,” he said.