Not Your Parents' Soda Fountain (Video)

Mobile app tie in next for Coke Freestyle

Steve Holtz, Editor in Chief, CSP Daily News

Coke Freestyle in convenience store

ATLANTA -- With  mobile app in the works that ties back to its high-tech soda fountain, Coca-Cola clearly has an intense focus for the future of its Freestyle machine: attracting millennials.

Its slow rollout, which began in 2009, "has recently gained some momentum as there are currently 19,000 machines in about 10,500 locations globally, including most domestic Burger Kings," according to a recent report in USA Today. But Coke Freestyle--the vaunted touch-screen soda fountain that features over 100 different Coca-Cola drink products and the ability to customize flavors--is still missing industry kingpin McDonald's, which recently began to test it in some New York City locations, according to the report. While several convenience store chains have tested or rolled out the machines, many retailers say its lofty price keeps freestyle beyond their equipment budgets. Still, "Freestyle is increasingly catching the eye of Millennials, who are its consuming future," according to the USA Today report.

"Freestyle is a game-changer," Jennifer Mann, vice president and general manager of Coca-Cola Freestyle, told the newspaper. "This is one of the largest investments in innovation in the history of the company."

More important, she notes, "This is a way to grow the brand." Some fast-food chains that have installed Freestyle—including Burger King, Five Guys, Moe's Southwest Grill and some Wendy's locations—have seen an average 6% to 8% increase in beverage purchases, Mann said.

Pepsi is certainly paying attention. Last year it began pilot tests of its own Pepsi Touch Tower dispenser with an interactive, digital touch-screen small enough to sit on a counter-top.

But the future appears to lie beyond the in-store machine itself.

The Freestyle app is expected to debut in the fall. It will let folks pre-mix and match their drinks on their cellphones. Then, when they hold their devices up to a Freestyle machine, they'll receive the exact drink that they've mixed in their app.

"It makes it more exciting to go to a restaurant," Abigail Vickers, 15, a ninth-grader, visiting the popular World of Coca-Cola exhibit in Atlanta told USA Today. But Abigail's mother, Elise, says that she is way too intimidated to even touch the Freestyle machine. "I'd have no idea what to do with it," she said with a shrug, perhaps confirming that this is not your father's--er, mother's--fountain machine.

Click here to read the complete USA Today report.

Steve Holtz, CSP/Winsight By Steve Holtz, Editor in Chief, CSP Daily News
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