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ATLANTA -- The Coca-Cola Co. is moving forward in its efforts to reinvent the fountain drink business. The company’s new Freestyle self-service dispenser, which allows consumers to choose from more than 100 branded drinks without taking up any additional space, is now in a test phase in three markets, Fast Casual reported.
Gene Farrell, vice president of special projects for Coca-Cola North America, said the Freestyle dispenser has the same or smaller footprint as its typical Legacy six- to eight-valve dispenser. Freestyle's goal is to offer consumers more variety as well as a user-friendly experience. "So far we believe we've been successful there," Farrell said. "It’s a fast learning curve, and it's not intimidating for customers."
Customers use a touchscreen to select their desired Coke product, from flavored waters and teas, to the company's most popular carbonated beverages. Once the consumer chooses their desired beverage, they move on to subcategories within that type. For example, those choosing Coca-Cola Classic will then see another screen offering such varieties as Cherry Coke or even Coke with Orange—all brands sold throughout the world.
The unit features an inline ice and beverage dispenser, allowing customers to press their cup against the ice lever for the desired amount. Customers also can control the amount of beverage dispensed as well, according to the Fast Casual report.
For operators, the new dispenser offers a number of benefits, starting with the unit's maintenance, according to the company. Whereas traditional dispensers require a five-gallon bag-in-the-box for each flavor, the Freestyle uses high concentrate ingredients, borrowing the concept of micro-dosing from the medical field, Farrell said.
Each brand's concentrated oil is stored in a cassette, identified by an RFID tag. Operators open the unit’s lower cabinet, identify the empty cassette—the largest of which is 46 ounces —and replace it. "It's as simple as changing out a printer cartridge," Farrell said.
Coca-Cola said it developed the Freestyle based on extensive consumer research, which revealed that customers want more variety than traditionally thought.
Coca-Cola is using this test phase to identify and resolve any problems with the user interface, dispenser or user experience. Units are now being tested in Atlanta, Southern California and Salt Lake City. The California and Utah tests will continue through the summer. Restaurants involved in the test include Jack in the Box and Subway.
Coca-Cola will use data from this phase to determine the dispenser's expansion and rollout, Farrell told the magazine. The company plans to expand testing to Dallas and Chicago by the end of the year, and is determining additional markets for 2010.
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