Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Soda Fountain Dispensers Get a Facelift

Link to Medill article published May 24, 2011

Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. bring their fountain dispensers to the digital age.

It is like an i-Pod married to a fountain dispenser. That's what consumers at the National Restaurant Association Hotel-Motel Show at the McCormick Place were saying about Coca-Cola Co.'s new vending machines.

The new Freestyle self-serve soda fountain offers hundreds of Coca-Cola beverage options, including 96 caffeine-free, 72 with low or no calories, 52 non-carbonated and 82 beverages that are exclusive to Freestyle. The unit uses an interactive touchscreen interface and allows people to use credit or debit cards. There is no upfront cost to install the machine, but there is a small monthly fee.

The new technology offers features that make daily maintenance easier for business owners, according to the company. The machine tracks consumer behavior through the BevLogic reporting system.

Jeff Drake, co-founder and president of Go Roma has had the Freestyle fountain dispensers in four of his six Chicago locations since November 2010. He says the BevLogic system helps the managers with inventory management based on calculations of previous history.

Coca-Cola promises a 10 to 15 percent increase in beverage sales for businesses that upgrade.

“Since installation, our sales in beverages sold per entrée increased about 15 percent,” attested Drake. “There has been a lot of positive feedback. It has been interesting to see how different age groups and demographics respond. I was afraid that the older generations would be turned off by the technology. But people are pleased by the variety.” 

Dr. Pepper lover Sophia Dimapoulos agreed that the machine is very user friendly. “I am just floored how the new model integrates our futuristic society,” she said.

“It’s like sliced bread for the beverage industry,” raved consumer Dianne Samartizis. “It really tapped into the right market.”

This month marks the 125thanniversary of the soda giant, and it has stepped up to the occasion, introducing 19 new products. They have been available at more than 400 outlets in 25 markets across the U.S. since May 8. A few of the new products include Coke with lime, Barq’s vanilla and Hi-C raspberry lime. “Thinking of new ways to please guests and help operators deliver a better beverage experience is at the very essence of who we are as The Coca Cola Company,” said Gene Farrell, vice president of Coca-Cola Freestyle, Coca-Cola Refreshments USA. “Coca-Cola Freestyle’s 125 brands honor a 125-year legacy of creative development and give you a glimpse of where we’re headed in the future.”

Passersby were able to interact with the new dispenser and taste the new products at the NRA, the restaurant and hospitality industry’s most comprehensive trade show, at McCormick Place May 21 through 24. The convention attracts about 60,000 visitors to the city of Chicago, as well as 1,700 displays that unveil new products.

Coca-Cola is not the only soda company to take fountain dispensers into the digital age.

PepsiCo Inc. announced its Social Vending System in April. Using the touchscreen interface, customers can purchase a soda for a friend from across the country. The machine sends a text message with a unique code that the recipient can use at the nearest Social Vending System. There is also an option to further personalize the gift with a short video recorded right at the machine.

“Our vision is to use innovative technology to empower consumers and create new ways for them to engage with our brands, their social networks and each other at the point of purchase,” said Mikel Durham, chief innovation officer at PepsiCo Foodservice. “Social Vending extends our consumers’ social networks beyond the confines of their own devices and transforms a static, transaction-oriented experience into something fun and exciting they’ll want to return to, again and again.”

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