Juice Ventures Inc., the Irvine-based owner of Juice It Up juice bars, plans to double in size this year as it launches an expansion into nine states.
Company officials said they purchased Juice It Up's North Carolina-based licensee, boosting its store count to 41. In addition, Juice Ventures is planning to acquire its "No. 1 competitor" in Orange County, which company officials declined to name.
Officials at California Juice Stop Corp. of Mission Viejo, which has 33 stores statewide, said they are negotiating with a competitor about a possible merger, but would not disclose details.
The fragmented juice-bar business has become intensely competitive in recent years as nearly 1,900 juice bars have sprouted across the nation, mostly in coastal states. Sales are expected to rise to an estimated $647 million this year, from $340 million in 1997.
The big fish in this swelling pond is San Francisco-based Jamba Juice Co., which has more than 220 stores nationwide. If Juice Ventures completes its acquisition, company officials said they would have more than 120 stores by the year's end, making Juice It Up one of the industry's biggest players.
While the juice business still is growing, some analysts say the saturation point could be nearing.
"It's hard to say how long it's going to last, maybe another three years," said Rancho Palos Verdes restaurant analyst Janet Lowder. "Five, I think, would be pushing it."
Juice Ventures President Bruce Holsten disagrees. "That would be like somebody saying back in 1992, we don't need any more coffee bars," he said.
As competition has increased, juice bars have rolled out new products, including coffee, soup and bagel sandwiches. Tackling what one industry insider called "the chew factor," Jamba Juice began selling bread. Juice It Up is testing a dessert smoothie and frozen smoothie bar. Some California Juice Stop stores sell sandwiches.
Consolidation also is taking hold. Jamba Juice bought the 96-store Utah-based Zuka Juice in February, expanding its operations into new states. Jamba Juice has no stores on the East Coast, where Juice Ventures plans to expand.