In his last look at Jack in the Box (NYSE:JBX), Fool contributor Stephen Simpson reconsidered his earlier position on the company, writing, "I'm beginning to think there could be some value waiting to pop for patient shareholders." Good call, fellow Fool. Since the start of the year, Jack in the Box's stock has risen more than 20%, a big chunk of which happened in the recent rally following the release of first-quarter results.

At first glance, one wonders what all the excitement is about. Earnings for the period were $0.70 per share, only 3% higher from the year-ago quarter. That said, the company did top analyst expectations of $0.68 per share, and its top line of $820 million exceeded Wall Street's projection by a little more than 5%. It's also important to note that its bottom line this quarter took a $0.05-per-share hit from new accounting rules for the expensing of stock options.

Revenues benefited from strong same-store sales in the company-owned Jack in the Box units, which increased 5.5% in the first quarter. This was significantly higher than the company's original forecast of 1.5% to 2% comps growth. In the conference call, CEO Linda Lang attributed the positive results to a successful marketing campaign promoting its premium products and value menu. In particular, she highlighted the strong customer response to Jack's hard-baked ciabatta-bread sandwiches and burgers.

Lang elaborated that enhancing the menu has been a significant part of the company's strategy to reinvent the Jack in the Box concept. Much as McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) had to reexamine its product lineup to get consumers interested again, menu innovation has been a major boost to Jack in the Box. Its stock has responded in kind, rising almost 200% since 2003. With additional products waiting in the pipeline, shareholders should be excited about the company's future.

Other key factors are helping the company once again perform for shareholders, including a strategy to improve operational performance, efforts to enhance restaurant facilities, the success of the company's Qdoba Mexican Grill, and its increased franchising efforts -- thinkWendy's (NYSE:WEN) here. Jack in the Box intends to be 35% franchised by 2008, up from 19% in 2002. The burger biz is a tough one, but with a proven strategy in place, Jack in the Box should continue to offer value for long-term shareholders.

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Fool contributor Jeremy MacNealy does not own shares of any companies mentioned.