Clouds Over the Cracker Barrel

Who’s Winning? Cracker Barrel or Whole Foods?

Way back in 2016, some pundits described the U.S. presidential election as a victory of Cracker Barrel over Whole Foods. That was then. This is now. In the match between comfort food and healthy eating, our verdict is that neither one is clearly winning. Not so different from the mid-term election results we just witnessed.

Everyone Wants Healthy Eating

Cracker Barrel is not exempt from consumers who say they want to eat healthy. Sure, the place is known for its comfort food. But families who land there have to find something everyone can order. So Cracker Barrel sells country vegetable plates, lemon pepper rainbow trout, and apple cider BBQ chicken breast. You can even skip the country boy breakfast for oatmeal with cinnamon and apples.

Of course, it’s worth noting that these options aren’t doing much for sales. They’re falling short of expectations. Dining traffic is down by 3.5%. And thus, the stock price is down.

But They Still Go for Comfort

Meanwhile, Whole Foods wants you to know that comfort food can be healthy, too. Of course, they’re pushing a version of comfort that fits with their super healthy brand image. Creamy cashew risotto with butternut squash does it. Nonetheless you can also find them taking about pretty conventional mac and cheese. Whatever sells.

How’s it working for them? “Meh” is about all you can say about their murky sales results.

False Dichotomies

So what gives? The bottom line is that we’re living in an age of false dichotomies. Red versus blue. Comfort versus health. Whole Foods or Cracker Barrel? Truthfully, neither people nor food fit into these tidy categories. The world is just more complicated than that.

Comfort food plays a genuine role in people’s lives. And sometimes healthy eating is nothing more than marketing fluff. Either way, people love those sweet little lies.

Click here for more about the role of comfort food. For more on how people think about healthy eating, click here.

Clouds Over the Cracker Barrel, photograph © Jeff Lautenberger / flickr

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November 7, 2018

2 Responses to “Who’s Winning? Cracker Barrel or Whole Foods?”

  1. November 07, 2018 at 10:08 am, Stephen Phillips said:

    Words can have a very powerful emotional impact. Words break hearts and it is harder to mend a broken heart than a broken bone. Many hurtful words that have found their way into our vocabularies are derived from the diet industry.

    Food is not our moral compass and is neither good nor bad. All food contains nutrients and provides energy and cannot be labeled as healthy or unhealthy or good or bad. These words feed into the diet mentality and fuel the perfectionist, all or nothing forbidden food behaviors. Certainly some foods could be of advantage or disadvantage to specific medical conditions but this does not moralize them nor make them inherently good, bad, healthy or unhealthy.

    We are part of the problem when we continue to label food with emotionally charged words like, fattening, good and bad, healthy or unhealthy. Then when patients deviate from diet plans we imply they are cheaters and failures. Most of the patients we see have lived lives riddled with fat shaming. By continually using these words we provoke additional feelings of guilt and shame and then wonder why patients resist record keeping

    • November 07, 2018 at 10:42 am, Ted said:

      I agree with you Stephen. Sad to say, it’s not just the diet industry. Narratives about forbidden, evil food are quite popular with certain segments of the public health community and beyond. Does it make sense to proclaim that sugar is toxic?