Cracker Barrel enters the music biz -- The food chain gives Starbucks a run for its money by signing its second artist, Charlie Daniels

By Whitney Pastorek
July 22, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT

What’s next, nonfat venti corn bread? Cracker Barrel is giving Starbucks a run for its hefty music sales, signing its second artist — ”The Devil Went Down to Georgia” singer Charlie Daniels — to sell CDs exclusively in the Tennessee-based restaurant chain. When Daniels’ hits compilation is released this fall, it will join Alison Krauss and Union Station’s Home on the Highways (Cracker Barrel’s first exclusive CD), previously unreleased vintage Grand Ole Opry broadcasts, and the chain’s American Legends CD series (including Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra) next to the cheese wheels and peppermint sticks. ”We really felt like if we could take [music], put our seal of approval on it, and make it easy to access, that our guests would appreciate that,” says VP of Barrel marketing Chris Tomasso. ”And they have.”

But can a joint that bills itself as an ”Old Country Store” and caters in rocking chairs possibly compete with a shiny music-selling coffee conglomerate? Apparently. Starbucks moved 147,000 copies of Alanis Morissette’s acoustic Jagged Little Pill out of 4,600 locations in 30 days, while the Krauss CD sold 125,000 units in two months. . .and Cracker Barrel ain’t got but 529 stores.

The chain’s greatest strength might be its sentimental value — especially to anyone who’s road-tripped down I-95. ”We loved Cracker Barrel!” Krauss says of her early tours. ”We always wanted to be associated with them.” And Daniels? ”The original Cracker Barrel was about seven miles from my house. I feel a little kinship to ’em,” he says. In other words: Never underestimate brand loyalty in the South, you latte-drinking Yankees.

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