Coca Cola Freestyle machines are a little bit old school and a little bit space age. But do they deliver all they promise?
The first Coca Cola Freestyle machine made its way into test markets, and into the paths of soda fountain aficionados, a couple of years ago. It remains in the test-marketing phase in a few locations around the country, but more and more people will soon get to experience its pleasures. Even the Stater Bros. grocery store chain now features a machines near each deli.
Coca Cola Freestyle - Innovation Meets Revival
Some will remember the days when going to a movie theater meant dropping a coin or two into a machine and watching a cup fall into place, instantly filling with a perfectly measured stream of soda. With time, those simple machines gave way to full refreshment counters flush with a myriad of delectable treats and attendant-filled sodas.
I couldn’t help but think of those simple machines that spurred
childhood memories as I experienced the Coca Cola Freestyle machine for the
first time. But this monster machine is very, very different. It dispenses more than
a solitary drink. It dispenses 106 of them.
Coca Cola uses something called PurePour - microdosing technology
to capture the essence of a soda fountain, but in the size and shape of an
ordinary soda bottle-dispensing machine. But instead of bottles, this machine
is filled with cartridges that resemble printer cartridges and are changed in
much the same manner. Each cartridge holds concentrated ingredients that mix
at the moment the consumer chooses his or her favorite flavors.
A touch screen steers the user to appropriate selections, beginning with all the major options, which include the following Coca Cola trademark brands.
- Coca Cola
- Diet Coke
- Coca Cola Zero
- Caffeine-Free Diet Coke
- Sprite Zero
- Barq’s Rootbeer
- Dasani Waters
- Fanta Zero
- Minute Maid
- Powerade Zero
You select the main ingredient, (for instance, Coca Cola,) by touching its logo on the screen. Another screen then appears and offers additional flavoring options for that Coke®, such as:
- or, just plain Coke
Select the flavor you crave then depress the lever to fill your cup with ice. Set the cup on the fill circle and press the dispense button. The liquid flows as long as you hold the button. This is a pretty appealing feature because you can, for example, put a little Vanilla Coke on the bottom, stop the flow, select another flavor, and add it to the top if you wish.
Every major category has subcategories of flavors, so the 106 options the machine boasts could really create hundreds of flavor profiles. From traditional fountain sodas to flavored waters, there’s something for everyone.
Special handicap buttons increase the size of the screen display and provide the ability to fill a cup at wheelchair level.
Freestyle Soda Fountain Hits and Misses
My introduction to the Coca Cola Freestyle machine happened at the Hometown Buffet in Loma Linda, CA.
My first impression included a “wow” moment. The machines are bright red, sleekly styled, and imposing. The eye is quickly drawn to them.
Hometown had two of the machines, back to back, and regular soda dispensers were no longer there. But even with two machines, at an off-time late lunch hour, it took only a moment to see the machine’s biggest drawback, time.
Lines to get drinks were long as people struggled to figure out how to
use the machine or which drinks sounded most appealing. And because the
Freestyle machines had become the only ice dispenser, even those wanting
iced tea from the iced tea dispenser had to wait in line to use the Freestyle
machine just to get ice. The time issue will need to be resolved for the
machines to be efficient and to work well in high traffic areas. Larger
facilities may simply need more machines.
Another miss was the decided lack of instruction. While it may seem
that the machine is self-explanatory, for many, it wasn’t. Coca Cola missed
the boat by not including play-by-play instructions on the machine. In the
alternative, there could have been handouts at the cash register or perhaps
a small tabletop instruction card. There is a learning curve, especially for
those who are less than computer savvy.
The final issue was the print on the screen. Flavors are listed in a
small, script font, and many patrons couldn’t see them well enough to
choose. That added even more wait time for those in line. Large, instantly
recognized icons, like a big cherry for cherry flavor, or a bunch of grapes
for grape flavor, would surely speed up the selection process.
But in spite of the minor frustrating misses, the machine is still a huge hit. As I queried people’s opinions about the machine, even those who had waited overly long confirmed that the machine was a treat. The words “choices” and “fun,” peppered most responses. I think those two words summed it up for me as well. The flavors were true in the combinations I tried, and the availability of so many choices is undeniably appealing.
Hometown manager, Alex Navarro, related that in spite of some minor technical glitches, the machines seemed to really make customers happy.
The Future for Coca Cola Freestyle
Whether the machines will work in all applications, such as fast food restaurants, ballparks, table service restaurants, theme parks and more, remains to be seen. But if Coke executives correct the adverse issues presented in the test phase, Coca Cola Freestyle may just be poised to change the taste buds of drink lovers in a big and decidedly delicious way.