|What will it be? Coca-Cola Freestyle offers more than 70 low- or no-calorie options; more than 90 caffeine-free choices; more than 50 non-carbonated beverages; and more than 80 unique brands.
Then, there’s The Coca-Cola Company’s Freestyle, a touch-screen foodservice beverage dispenser that seemingly puts an endless array of beverage flavor combinations at the user’s fingertips. Coca-Cola Freestyle offers users (consumers or foodservice crew members) an unprecedented selection of more than 145 different drinks, including waters, sports drinks, lemonades and sparkling beverages -- from a single unit.
For the record, Coca-Cola’s US Foodservice Division sells and distributes a broad line of branded beverages to every type of commercial and non-commercial foodservice operator. That line includes soft drinks, juices and juice drinks, coffee, tea, smoothies, sports drinks, water and enhanced water, energy drinks, mixers and frozen beverages. Coca-Cola’s portfolio features many billion-dollar brands, such as Diet Coke, Fanta, Sprite, Coca-Cola Zero, vitaminwater, Powerade, Minute Maid, Simply, Georgia and Del Valle.
Jennifer Mann is vice president and general manager for Coca-Cola Freestyle.
“Our ‘ah-ha’ moment came from a desire to address the gap between the number of beverage choices we offered in retail outlets -- such as grocery and convenience stores -- and the limited choices we offered in outlets with fountain dispensers, like restaurants,” she says. “While we have hundreds of beverages, in outlets with fountain dispensers, we were limited to offering just six to eight choices. Coca-Cola Freestyle was developed to provide a similar landscape of options in all the places where people want to choose a refreshing beverage from The Coca-Cola Company.”
Mann continues, “Our technical team also developed several new ideas and solutions, based on numerous technologies. We recognized that the technology landscape had changed dramatically since we launched our legacy six- to eight-valve fountain dispenser more than 20 years ago.”
“People were becoming inherently tech-savvy, connected and wired -- with smartphones, tablets, Twitter and Facebook becoming second nature,” she concludes.
“We knew we needed to go beyond the concept of simply offering greater beverage choices through a new type of fountain dispenser. We needed to tap into the love people have for technology and customization.”
Officials say the dispenser features many varieties of waters, sports drinks, lemonades and sparkling beverages that were not previously available. People can select brands such as Caffeine-Free Diet Coke with Lime, Fanta Peach, Minute Maid Light Orange Lemonade and more, via an interactive touch-screen on the front of the fountain. There are more than 70 low- or no-calorie options; more than 90 caffeine-free choices; more than 50 non-carbonated beverages; and more than 80 unique brands.
Mann says Coca-Cola began developing Freestyle in 2004 with Gene Farrell, the former vice president and general manager, US Foodservice Division, leading a cross-functional support team.
Speaking of technology, Coca-Cola Freestyle uses a proprietary PurePour system that employs “micro-dosing” (common in medical applications) to precisely meter and dispense fluids. Instead of syrup, the technology relies on concentrated ingredients stored in cartridges inside the Coca-Cola Freestyle cabinet.
Interestingly, each Freestyle machine also is literally wired to Coca-Cola. That allows customer representatives to remotely monitor everything -- from ingredient levels to top-selling combinations.
Since its 2009 debut, Coca-Cola Freestyle has quickly grown, with installations in more than 7,000 outlets across 135 markets in 47 states in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. To date, there are more than 12,000 Coke Freestyle dispensers in market, including machines for consumers and more modest units for foodservice crew members.
In 2011, Burger King rolled out Coca-Cola Freestyle to its more than 800 company-owned locations nationwide. Subsequent operator customers include Five Guys, Firehouse Subs, Willy’s, Taco Mac restaurants, Pei Wei, Noodles and Wendy’s.
Today, Coca-Cola Freestyle is available in more than 1,500 U.S Burger King restaurants, and officials say the chain plans to have 2,000 by the end of the year, representing about 30% of its system. Burger King also introduced Coca-Cola Freestyle in 16 of its restaurants in London, as part of a limited-scale trial just before the Olympics.
“Their guests love the new brand varieties, many of which they cannot buy at the store, like Coke Zero with Orange or Fanta Zero Peach,” says Jim Andrist, vice president of North America sales for Coca-Cola’s Burger King account team. “Guests also love the fresh taste; the intense aromas of the flavored beverages; and the perfect carbonation of each drink. Those things, along with the fun touch-screen interface are the magic of Coca-Cola Freestyle.”
Andrist says Burger King restaurants have seen a positive impact on their business from Coca-Cola Freestyle. Restaurants that offer the technology report increases in guest counts, drink incidence and profits.
Taco Mac, an Atlanta-based casual-dining chain, was the nation’s first operator to test and install the Coca-Cola Freestyle crew-serve machine in all locations. By expanding beverage choices to more than 100 brands, Taco Mac officials say they’ve seen an increase of revenue-generating beverages, along with a significant drop in tap water orders.
“Coca-Cola Freestyle has become a point of differentiation for us,” says Bruce Skala, vice president of marketing for Tappan Street Restaurant Group, which operates Taco Mac. With dozens of menu items and 140 beers on tap, “the ability to offer more than 100 beverage choices complements our concept.”
Last but not least, Coca-Cola Freestyle has represented a “win” for Coca-Cola itself, as officials noted in the company’s 2012 annual report.
“We’re always pushing ourselves to create even greater value for all our customers -- from individual vendors to traditional retailers to large stores,” said officials.
“One way we did so in 2012 was by helping our customers increase immediate consumption sales by 5%, the fastest rate in over a decade. We also continued to roll out our revolutionary Coca-Cola Freestyle fountain dispenser, which is now delighting consumers in 47 U.S. states and test markets in London, Tokyo and Toronto, with more than 100 beverage options.”