Can you pass the Christmas Ham soda? I need something to wash away the carbonated latke.

Yes, it's that time of year again. Jones Soda (NASDAQ:JSDA) is back with its holiday pack of eclectic flavors. The same mad scientists who have inflicted your palate with such forgettable pop concoctions as Green Bean Casserole, Turkey Gravy, and even Perspiration are at it again.

This year's holiday flavors were announced over the weekend, and they're tame compared with the company's usual outlandish seasonal standards. Sure, Christmas Ham and Christmas Tree in bottled form are the kind of treats best sipped with your nose clenched. However, Sugar Plum and Egg Nog do sound somewhat tempting.  

The company's Happy Chanukah four-pack includes Jelly Doughnut, Apple Sauce, Chocolate Coins, and Latke. I'm a little leery about how kosher potato pancakes will translate into a thirst quencher, but the other three sound downright appealing.

What have you done, Jones Soda? You sellout! Instead of holiday packs that would make Fear Factor contestants gag, you're actually putting out stuff that we may want to drink!

This is a far cry from the Seattle Seahawks limited edition five-pack that Jones put out two months ago. The company secured exclusive pouring rights at home football games for the team this season, and to celebrate the victory over former provider Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO), Jones hit area retailers with gross-out pop patterned after dirt, grass, and sweat.

Can it be? Has Jones Soda finally grown up?

Pop is no longer a kid
You don't have to test your gag reflex in swigging down the company's year-round flavors. Top sellers such as Root Beer, Green Apple, and Berry Lemonade sit invitingly on retailers' shelves.

No, the funky flavors are seasonal headline grabbers. But still, it's clear that Jones wants to be taken seriously these days. Its strength rests with its edgy personality, but it can't make itself too repulsive as it tosses out a wider net to nab the masses.

To that end, it's been expanding its reach this year through a canned-distribution deal with National Beverage (NASDAQ:FIZZ), thus breaking Jones into grocery-store and department-store behemoths that were strangers in the past. Even the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), is stocking the cans now. Then you have the deal with the Seahawks. The company sees that move as the beginning of a break into other high-traffic venues and casual-dining chains.

Jones has to strike a delicate balance. In promoting its gridiron five-pack, Jones offered samples to fans attending Seahawks games at Qwest Field. How well do you think Natural Field Turf panned out? How about Perspiration? Sure, they're just novelties, but what if they cause folks to avoid the more conventional cola and lemon-lime flavors that are sold at the game?

There's no easy answer. But for now, the company is making the most of its alternative edge. It has photographers going around Qwest Field and taking snapshots. Guests can then view the shots digitally and order them as personalized Jones Soda bottle labels. Coke or PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP) would never think of something incremental like that.

The initial buzz is favorable enough that the New Jersey Nets -- an NBA team three time zones removed from Jones Soda's Seattle hub -- is booting Pepsi to go with Jones in two years, when the team moves to Brooklyn.

The deals are coming. Will the fundamentals follow? That's the big question, because last week's earnings were lousy.

Down to the last drop
The move to expand the reach of its canned product -- which, until its late springtime push, was limited to Target (NYSE:TGT) -- is a mixed blessing for now. You see it in the deceleration as you go from the top to the bottom of the latest quarter's metrics.

  • Case volume soared 119% higher.
  • Gross revenue climbed by 27%.
  • Net revenue inched 15% higher.

Follow the numbers, and it makes sense: The canned product is cheaper than the flagship premium bottles, hence the reason why a huge uptick in case sales translates into a much smaller rise in gross revenues. Then you have promotional allowances and the one-time slotting fees that secure the retailer some shelf space -- but they also make the net-revenue spurt even less impressive than the gross-revenue growth.

Working on thinner margins, Jones Soda posted a loss of $0.06 per share for the quarter. That reversed a small profit from a year earlier. Say what you will about Green Bean Casserole soda -- a lack of profitability is the funkiest flavor of all at the company.

"When are you going to make money?" an exasperated analyst asked during the previous quarterly conference call back in August. Jones Soda disappointed the market then, too.  

If the analyst waited around three months for an answer, he probably didn't get the response he wanted. Since last week's report, Wall Street has taken down its bottom-line estimates and now sees a small loss for all of 2007. The same pros who last month figured that Jones would earn $0.23 a share in 2008 are now settling for a more modest $0.09-per-share showing.

Jones was supposed to be the next great beverage rock star. Instead of channeling Monster maker Hansen (NASDAQ:HANS), Jones looks more like it's been channeling Hanson, the "Mmmbop" one-hit brotherly wonders.

That doesn't mean Jones is done, though. As slotting fees on the retail side diminish and venue deals increase, the company still has time to get the last laugh. The shares have come down so far off their springtime highs that Jones may just be an exclusive casual-dining chain or baseball-stadium deal away from reigniting interest.

Until the money comes, we'll have to fill our pockets with Chocolate Coins soda.

Other ways to keep up with the Joneses:

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz actually enjoyed Jones Soda's Candy Corn, Pumpkin, and Caramel Apple flavors that Target sold for Halloween two years ago. He also owns shares in Jones Soda and is part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.