Jamba Juice Launches Volley in New Oatmeal War

A Taste Test from the Chicago Preview

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- We've had the breakfast wars, the double cheeseburger wars and the coffee wars. Now, welcome to the oatmeal wars.

Jamba Juice's slow-cooked, 'steel-cut' organic oatmeal will be introduced in January.
Jamba Juice's slow-cooked, 'steel-cut' organic oatmeal will be introduced in January.
Jamba Juice, the smoothie chain with 750 stores concentrated on the West Coast and most major cities, plans to introduce system-wide its slow-cooked, "steel-cut" organic oatmeal in January. The move comes after a huge success of oatmeal at Starbucks, where the breakfast-that-grandma served is being warmly embraced as a healthy comfort food among professionals, particularly women.

Jamba shrewdly chose to "preview" the product in Chicago, which is perhaps just as infamous for its horrific winters as its political machine. Even the company couldn't have hoped for a better morning, with temperatures in the teens and an ice storm on the way. Good advance play in the Wall Street Journal and Chicago Sun-Times couldn't have hurt, but local stores had surpassed first-day expectations in the first two hours of business this morning.

And they will likely be back based upon a taste test: It's delicious. The oatmeal is warm, creamy, filling and absolutely craveable and customers can choose their fruit topping -- apple cinnamon crumble, blueberry-blackberry or fresh banana. The apple was terrific, and it was my second breakfast. The ladies around the office swooned, but a colleague, Ad Age reporter Jeremy Mullman balked at the sweetness, describing himself as "the Neanderthal, no- fruit, just oatmeal" kind of guy.

Of course, Starbucks' oatmeal is good -- so good, in fact, that it's been the most successful food launch in the company's history. But it's instant. So you have to wait for it to steep, and if you're impatient and like it thick like I do, you're in a bit of a fix. The mixed dried-fruit topping, which is actually tastier than Jamba's fresh, comes in a separate package, as does the brown sugar. It winds up being a lot to carry, especially if you buy a drink and carry a bag or newspapers.

Jamba is betting that customers will be willing to pay about 50 cents more for the slow-cooked variety with fresh fruit. "We think there's a big opportunity and big demand for more nutritious hot breakfast solution," said Jamba chief executive James White. "For us, quite honestly, this will be the most significant food entry for our company, and the perfect entry into the breakfast daypart."

As part of the Chicago launch, Jamba is sponsoring a knitfiti installation. Knitfiti (rhymes with graffiti) is an emerging artistic movement in which groups create artwork out of yarn to beautify a space. Mr. White said to expect more knifiti as the oatmeal rolls out nationally. Jamba is also dropping samples at Chicago charities.

Jamba will rely heavily on word-of-mouth and sampling when the chain rolls the oatmeal out nationwide. The chain does not have an ad agency, and Mr. White just took the reins Dec. 1. He described the company as being, "in transition," but said that the chain is not currently reviewing pitches.

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