In a year sorely lacking in truly transformative transactions, the $620 million purchase by Starbucks Corp. (Nasdaq: SBUX) of Teavana Holdings Inc. (NYSE: TEA) comes closest to our idea of leveraging M&A to take a company into new territory. Through the deal, the premier roaster and retailer of specialty coffee in the world expands into the realm of tea retail.

"Together, Starbucks and Teavana are embarking on the next chapter of a journey that we believe will reinvent the way the world enjoys tea, just as Starbucks did decades ago for coffee," enthused Jeff Hansberry (pictured), president of channel development and emerging brands for Starbucks, in a blog post on the last day of the year. It was a day that marked the close of the transaction -- just in time to take advantage of the business-friendly tax code, and just in time to qualify for our annual awards.

"For those of you who have had the chance to visit a Teavana store, you know this is a brand that has true tea authority," continued Hansberry. "Each of Teavana's stores offers an impressive variety of super-premium, loose-leaf teas and uniquely-curated selection of authentic artisanal teawares hand-picked from around the world. Teavana's 5,000 partners (employees) are passionate and knowledgeable about the ritual and enjoyment of tea, and are expert ambassadors that help guide and educate new tea enthusiasts and tea connoisseurs alike. We are excited by the opportunity to bring their expertise to even more customers, while learning from them ourselves."

Starbucks expects the Atlanta-based chain of 300 mall-based tea stores to add a penny per share to earnings in fiscal 2013.

It's the third time in recent memory that the Seattle company has leveraged M&A to broaden its horizons beyond java. In 2011, Starbucks bought juice maker Evolution Fresh Inc. for $30 million, and in June 2012 the company bought bakery chain La Boulange Cafe & Bakery for $100 million. Earlier transactions include the Tazo tea brand, which the company bought for a reported $8.1 million in cash in 1999, and the Seattle's Best Coffee brand, which it bought in a $72 million cash-for-stock transaction in 2003.

Although Starbucks has told analysts the company doesn't plan to make any more acquisitions soon, we expect to see other buyers emerge in the sector. Acquisitions of U.S. restaurant, tea and coffee companies reached $6.1 billion in 2012, the highest level since 2008, according to Bloomberg. Deals are on the rise, as sales growth at coffee and snack shops are forecast to outpace fast-food chains through 2017, as IbisWorld Inc. reports.

Consolidation is expected to continue. Already in 2013, we've seen actor Patrick Dempsey's Global Baristas beat out Baristas Coffee for bankrupt Tully's Coffee parent TC Global. (Comments to analysts to the contrary, Starbucks also bid on TC Global.) Future potential targets in the sector include Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc. (NYSE: KKD) and Jamba Inc. (Nasdaq: JMBA).

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