PepsiCo's 'Thrilla in Vanilla'

Beverage giant testing Touch Tower fountain unit to rival Coca-Cola's Freestyle

PURCHASE, N.Y. -- PepsiCo Inc. plans to start testing in restaurants a new fountain machine, the Touch Tower 1.0, that lets people create a variety of flavor combinations, such as strawberry Mountain Dew, reported the Associated Press. The test follows Coca-Cola's introduction in 2009 of its Freestyle machine, which also lets customers touch a screen to pick from a wide array of flavor combinations.

PepsiCo's test is set to begin at five Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill restaurants in Denver next week.

Fountain sodas at restaurants, movie theaters and other outlets are an important part of the broader industry, representing about a quarter of overall sales volume, according to the report, citing industry tracker Beverage Digest. Coca-Cola Co., which is served in chains including McDonald's and Wendy's, has about 70% of the fountain business, the report said. PepsiCo Inc. has about 30% and is served at chains including Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC, which it previously owned.

Gina Anderson, a spokesperson for PepsiCo, told AP that the Touch Tower machines let people add up to four flavor shots--lemon, cherry, strawberry or vanilla--to eight varieties of drinks. That means people could create drinks like strawberry Pepsi or lemon Mountain Dew.

She said the company has other tests planned and that the Touch Tower being introduced in Denver is the first in a series of new fountain equipment the company is considering. The test was first reported by Beverage Digest.

Coca-Cola's Freestyle machine also lets people pick from a variety of unique drinks, such as Caffeine-Free Diet Coke with lime or Minute Maid Light Orange Lemonade. Unlike the PepsiCo machine, however, Freestyle's options are all pre-set and don't let customers mix and match flavors.

The PepsiCo Touch Tower is also much smaller than Coca-Cola's Freestyle, which is roughly the size of a vending machine. PepsiCo said its machine, which has a tablet-like screen, is intended more for outlets that do not want equipment that takes up a lot of space. The company said it is also developing other machines that would suit a variety of needs.

Atlanta-based Coca-Cola has positioned its Freestyle machines as a way for restaurants and other outlets such as movie theaters to attract more customers and boost beverage sales, said the report. The company said Freestyle is in 7,000 outlets in the United States, including Burger King and Wendy's. It's also being tested in Tokyo, London and Toronto.

Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo is a global food and beverage leader with net revenues of more than $65 billion and a product portfolio that includes 22 brands that generate more than $1 billion each in annual retail sales. Its main businesses are Quaker, Tropicana, Gatorade, Frito-Lay and Pepsi-Cola.