Eating right involves three basic challenges. One, know what to eat. Two, want to eat it. Three, consume what’s healthy in the context of a busy, on-the-go life. Call it the “shoulda-woulda-coulda” nutrition conundrum. Countless food manufacturers and retailers try to deliver on this concept, but few succeed on all points. One company to watch, however, is Jamba Juice, the retailer of fruit and vegetable smoothies based in Emeryville, California. The company sells its products in all fifty US states and more than a half-dozen other countries as well.
The whole-fruit smoothie company managed an “expression of the brand” in a variety of ways that go beyond the familiar shopping center stores, according to Tom Madsen, Jamba Juice’s senior vice president and general manager of global growth. Madsen and his team rethought where, when, how, and why the company’s popular smoothies, juices, and health-focused light snacks could be bought and consumed. In reality, people who are out and about are largely faced with poor fast-food choices.
This disconnect is Madsen’s challenge. Fortunately, he and his team have come up with some pretty juicy solutions.
First, consider the product and why it fits into the category of healthier choices. The company’s specialty beverage and food products are made with whole fruits and vegetables, which nutritionists say people need at least five servings of per day. “Jamba Juice smoothies provide at least two servings of fruits and/or vegetables per sixteen-ounce serving,” Madsen says. “Fruit is the main vehicle of all our products, and yet consumers crave convenience.”
A portable smoothie is generally more appealing and convenient than trying to eat mangoes and peaches while walking or driving. Athletes and cyclists who craved hydration and nutrients in a quick-service format founded the company, Juice Club, in 1990. Madsen says the brand name was changed from Juice Club to Jamba Juice—closely following “jama,” which means “celebration” in Swahili—as company products grew to national prominence.
Subsequent innovation addressed dietary needs, small-format venue constraints and consumers’ interests in on-trend ingredients and flavors.
On the dietary front, Jamba Juice recently added “green offerings,” drinks made with kale, the popular cruciferous leafy green. When some Jamba Juice products came under fire for sugar content, the people tasked with product development devised low-sugar variations—many with fruits and vegetables—that have proven to be a marketing and distribution advantage.
In addition to reaching calorie- and sugar-conscious consumers, the lower-sugar versions have passed muster for schools with the National School Lunch Program. “Everyone agrees we need more vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber,” Madsen says.
The school program, known as JambaGO, began in 2011 with thirty schools. Jamba Juice is now available in about 200 K-12 schools as well as about 1,800 other venues. Getting there wasn’t a simple matter of delivering retail products to kitchen back doors. School cafeterias were outfitted with streamlined versions of milkshake equipment while skeptical parents had to be convinced it was a good idea.
School administrators were provided with materials to share with their districts about the specific nutrition facts of the Jamba products, according to an article in Fast Company magazine. “You can give kids fruit, but there’s no guarantee they are going to consume it,” says a child nutrition supervisor in one California school district. “With Jamba, though, kids are screaming for it.”
The school format is similar to other small-format concepts the company is working with under Madsen’s oversight. The Jamba Juice team believes it has solutions that can fit a broad range of venue sizes, from countertop self-service to full-size, brick-and-mortar stores. “Some of the smaller-format, limited-menu stores perform at the high end of the spectrum in terms of percent margin,” Madsen says.
Meanwhile, Madsen’s global growth goal has him taking Jamba Juice to Canada, Mexico, several Middle Eastern countries (UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, and Qatar), South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Thailand. A deal inked in July 2015 with PT Sari Gemilang Makmur will establish an additional seventy stores in Indonesia. “Consumer interest in healthier foods is on the rise almost everywhere,” Madsen says. “We go where there is spending power.”
Some recent flavor innovations originate from Jamba’s international partners. Examples include chili mango smoothies from Mexico, hot-temperature juices and dragon fruit smoothies from South Korea, and avocado date smoothies from the United Arab Emirates. “This enhances Jamba’s credibility as a global brand,” Madsen says. “Plus it’s just a blast trying all these cool products, which are also healthy.” Chili mango is now in several hundred US stores.
Sourcing for the stores in every country is a critical element for the largely franchised chain (90 percent of Jamba Juice’s stores are franchised, many of which are owned by entrepreneurs with other brands). Madsen knows the challenging nature of supply quality and pricing, which includes important partnerships with wholesalers who help even out issues around seasonality and variable crop yields.
Most of that is invisible to consumers, of course. What they might see is Jamba Juice’s presence at athletic events such as marathons and soccer tournaments, popular Facebook and Twitter feeds, or via high-profile franchise owners Venus Williams and Vernon Davis. The tennis star and professional football player each made their appreciation for the product part of their investment portfolios.
Madsen is optimistic about the brand’s future in all its iterations because consumer interest in healthy products continues to climb. The brand itself consistently ranks high in consumer surveys, and “satisfaction metrics are at the top of the sector,”
Jamba Juice seems to have conquered the nutrition barriers—even to the liking of kids—while circumventing the beast of retail revolution. They should, they could, and they do.