Jamba Juice to test breakfast as traffic-builder

EMERYVILLE Calif. Jamba Juice plans to test a breakfast menu of hot stuffed-pocket sandwiches and "chunky smoothies," or meals-in-a-cup that have to be eaten with a spoon.

The hot items will require new equipment that could also be used to cook or heat lunch, dinner or snack products, but "food offerings will always be a complement to our drinks, which are center-of-the-plate for us," said chief executive Paul Clayton.

New selections are part of the 633-unit juice chain's strategy to boost visits by current customers as the system continues to grow, Clayton explained. Eighty percent of Jamba's customers now stop into a unit fewer than two times a month, according to a report this week in BusinessWeek. Boosting that frequency, said Clayton, would propel the average unit's intake far above the present level of $771,000. At present, he added, 95 percent of the system's sales are generated by smoothies.

Morning sales of Jamba's regular smoothies already account for 18 percent of the chain's intake, according to Clayton. He noted that lunch is the concept's busiest time, followed by the pre-dinner period.

The breakfast menu slated for a test later this summer would include whole wheat pockets with "three different fillings appropriate for breakfast," said senior vice president of marketing Paul Coletta. He described them as "very healthy," and said they would be "bundled with our fresh juice products" to create premium meals whose quality would make them a good value. He did not disclose the anticipated prices.

In addition, Coletta said, the chain is looking at "the chunky smoothie," a liquid meal with ingredients that add texture, like oatmeal. "You have to eat it with a spoon," he said.

The test is slated for mid-to-late summer in 30 to 40 units, the executives said.

Meanwhile, Jamba is looking to continue expanding, domestically at first. The Atlantic Seaboard is a particularly inviting area because of its demographics, said Clayton. He noted that Jamba customers tend to have slightly higher incomes and educations, and are slightly younger than the general mean.

The chain plans to grow through the addition of company-owned and operated units, he added. About 65 percent of the 22-state system is presently company-operated, Clayton indicated. He cited the $85 million in cash that the concern has on hand, with zero debt.

Clayton noted that an executive was recently hired to explore international development, but stressed that domestic expansion is the near-term priority.