Wasn't Starbucks Supposed to Crush Jamba?

Jamba (NAS: JMBA) stared into the belly of the Starbucks (NAS: SBUX) beast but has lived to tell the tale.

Shares of Jamba got slammed back in November, after Starbucks announced that it would be acquiring Evolution Fresh and opening a chain of juice bars. Now that Jamba's stock has soared 67% since bottoming out in late November, investors seemed to have either forgotten about the Starbucks monster, or they've realized that Evolution Fresh would either educate the market or not be much of a factor.

The first Evolution Fresh juice bar opened this week in Bellevue, Wash. Most field reports have been encouraging, but Jamba investors probably wanted to see what this juice bar would offer up in terms of smoothies.

Sure, Jamba fancies itself a juice bar. It'll squeeze up fresh oranges or grind a wheatgrass shot. However, its claim to fame is really its dozens of smoothie varieties that are blended up with customized boosts that provide extra kicks of vitamins or functional upgrades. For instance, a weight burner boost adds safflower oil while an immunity boost combines zinc, vitamin C, and plant extracts.

Hit me with your best shot, Evolution Fresh!

Well, the online menu is pretty lean. Evolution Fresh only offers seven smoothie flavors, and none of the functional boosts that set Jamba apart from smaller smoothie specialists. Perhaps more shocking, Evolution Fresh is selling its smoothies at a whopping $6.99 for a 16-ounce serving.

Now 16 ounces is the medium size at McDonald's (NYS: MCD) , and it may be surprising to see Evolution trying to charge nearly three times as much as Mickey D's does for a similar-size chilled beverage. However, that's Mickey D's. Sippers only get three choices there. Surely Evolution is comparably priced to what Jamba's doing.

Well, no. The smallest of Jamba sizes is 16 ounces. Evolution Fresh is charging nearly twice as much as Jamba does for its 16-ounce smoothies -- and that's without the free boosts.

Evolution Fresh may be the best thing that ever happened to Jamba. Either folks will scoff at Evolution's prices or enlighten the market while granting Jamba ridiculous pricing elasticity.

Starbucks will argue that Evolution's more laborious and natural-conscious process is worthy of a premium, even if it borders on highway robbery. Fine. If Evolution can get folks to pay $8.25 for its salads and $7.50 for its collard green wraps, great.

Jamba doesn't shy away from competition. In fact, the 769-unit chain of smoothie shops has seen same-store sales climb for five consecutive quarters, coinciding with the mainstream push of smoothies at McDonald's.

Evolution is either aiming for a higher -- and smaller -- well-to-do market or it will raise the value proposition of a fresh juice smoothie. Either way, Jamba has nothing to be afraid of here.

Blended just right
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At the time thisarticle was published The Motley Fool owns shares of Starbucks.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of McDonald's and Starbucks.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended writing covered calls on Starbucks. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He does own shares in Jamba. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

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