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Friday, November 20, 2009

Coke machines go high tech

As a food business owner, what is your most technological piece of equipment? I’m betting it’s not the drink dispenser.

Coca-Cola is looking to change the soft drink industry. This summer, Coke started testing its new dispenser called the Freestyle in California, Georgia, and Utah. The dispensers resemble computer kiosks and blow regular fountains away. Each can pour over 100 varieties of soda, juice, tea, and flavored water. To offer that many flavors in such a small space, Coke has developed new syrups that are highly concentrated and only require a few drops to make an entire cup of beverage. Coke borrowed this technology (aka “microdosing”) from the medical industry. Microdosing is used to deliver a precise amount of anesthesia to surgery patients. Each syrup is loaded into a cartridge similar to an ink cartridge for a printer.

Not only does the Freestyle employ potent (and tiny) flavor cartridges, but it also houses some pretty technologically-advanced hardware. Each Freestyle has a dedicated IP range and contains a wireless internet card. This allows up-to-the-minute point-of-sale data to be sent directly back to Coke Headquarters. With this data, Coke can see what cartridges are low and need to be re-ordered and customer drink preferences depending on day, time, region, type of restaurant, etc. For example, one Freestyle test site has delivered data that consumption of Caffeine-free Diet Coke severely increases in the late afternoon showing that consumers are worried about drinking caffeine and sugar later in the day. With this information, the LCD screen on the Freestyle can showcase caffeine-free and sugar-free beverages during those hours. This could possibly entice customers who might just get tap water or not get a beverage at all.

The Freestyle can also be used to test new Coke products. In the past, Coke would bottle new beverages, send them to market, and hope for success. Now Coke can try new drinks in the Freestyle simply by sending recipes via the internet straight to the device. If the flavor is a hit, Coke could then consider bottling it.

YouTube video http://bit.ly/5s20X5

Freestyle article http://bit.ly/7dRcjo

As a food business owner, what do you think about the Freestyle? Do you think this will help you with ordering, inventory, and availability of different drink choices? As a consumer, are you excited to test the Freestyle or is it too high tech?

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