Jamba's a Smoothie Operator

Jamba's (NASDAQ: JMBA  ) blenders were busy this past quarter.

The smoothie chain operator posted better-than-expected top-line growth in its latest quarter. Jamba saw its revenue climb 4%, to $55.1 million, in the 13 weeks ending on April 12. That may not seem like much, but analysts were projecting sales to grow at half that clip.

A 3.6% uptick in same-store sales at its company-owned stores fueled the beat, overcoming a 0.9% decline at its franchisee-run locations. Just 300 of the 820 Jamba Juice units are company-owned and operated, but naturally, they are the key drivers to performance.

It's an interesting reversal to last year's fourth quarter, when franchisee-run stores generated positive comps while its own stores were negative.

Blend the stores together, and you get system-wide comps climbing 1.3%. That's stacked on top of an 11.6% surge a year earlier, so we're eyeing a better than 13% pop since the first quarter of 2011. Same-store sales have been positive on a system-wide basis for two years now, and that may come as a surprise to some who figured that the proliferation of burger joints, baristas, and doughnut shops offering icy fruit beverages would hurt Jamba's business.

Starbucks kicked things off with its Vivanno line five years ago, and the rest of the quick-service industry has followed suit.

Jamba's resiliency at a time when fast food chains are arming themselves with blenders, is pretty impressive. If anything, it may even be sweet revenge for Jamba to be posting another quarter of store-level growth at a time when McDonald's -- offering drive-thru convenience of its limited McCafe smoothie line -- has been serving up negative comps since October.

Margins improved in Jamba's latest quarter, though it still poured out a modest deficit of $0.02 a share.

Investors should be cool with that. We're heading into the spring and summer quarters, where Jamba's seasonally tinged business spikes, and the chain targeting comps to climb between 4% to 6% at its company-operated stores for all of 2013 is refreshing.

After posting its first annual profit in 2012, and kicking off 2013 with a narrowing first-quarter loss, everything seems to be lining up for another strong year at Jamba.

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