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

Freestyle article

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?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Making this holiday season a happy one for your customers

With the recession still in full swing, customers may not be in the best of moods this holiday season. Budgets are tighter but gifts still need to be purchased. As an agricultural product retailer, how can you drive customers to your business?

Coupons are king this holiday season. In the Benchmark Survey on Consumer Coupon Behavior, 30% of consumers said the would choose a retailer that offered coupons and 20% said they would leave one store and go to another if they offered coupons. To inform customers about your coupons, get blogging! Write about your deals in your own blog and then send info to coupon sites, people who tweet about deals on Twitter, and other deal bloggers. Don't forget about search engine optimization (SEO) or pay per click ads (PPC) when you are adding content to your website. Include info about the holidays in your blog entries and articles and use holiday keywords.

One type of coupon/discount is to offer free shipping. Shipping may be costly, but a recent study by reported, "Of those intending to run free shipping offers almost 80 percent will make them conditional, which usually means a customer must purchase a specific item or spend a set dollar amount to qualify.” By offering free shipping (even if it is conditional), customers may perceive this as a discount.

People want to give back to those in need this holiday season, but might find it hard to do so with limited income. You can help customers provide for the needy when they are purchasing your goods. For example, with every $50 or more purchase from Oregon Growers and Shippers (, they will donate a jar of their marionberry jam to the Oregon Food Bank. Also to drive customers to their site, Oregon Growers and Shippers is sending recipes that use Oregon products to bloggers.

Holiday article

As an ag entrepreneur, what are you doing to drive customers to your business this holiday season? Have you already or do you plan to employ any of the tactics I mentioned above?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Smart Choices program put on hold

Around this time last year, I wrote about the introduction of the Smart Choices program. The program was designed by The Keystone Center, a non-profit organization specializing in creating solutions for public health problems. The intent of the program was to create a voluntary front-of-package symbol that identifies more nutritious choices within specific product categories. Some of the major proponents of the labeling system include Coca-Cola, ConAgra, General Mills, Kelloggs, Kraft, Pepsi, Unilever, and Walmart.

Sounds like a good program, right? So why has the program been suspended? Since it's kickoff, Smart Choices has taken a lot of heat for what it considers "nutritious". Critics are concerned that the Smart Choices guidelines are too lenient and are marketing processed foods as nutritious. Some of the products that contain the Smart Choices logo include foods high in sugar, such as Froot Loops cereal and Cracker Jack.

On October 20, 2009, the FDA communicated plans to reassess front-of-package labels and how consumers are interpreting these labels. Quickly after the FDA's announcement, The Keystone Center put a hold on the Smart Choices program. Mike Hughes, Chair of the Smart Choices program and VP for science and public policy at The Keystone Center says, "Our nutrition criteria are based on sound, consensus science. But with the F.D.A.’s announcement this week that they will be addressing both front-of-package and on-shelf systems, and that uniform criteria may follow, it is more appropriate to postpone active operations and channel our information and learnings to the agency to support their initiative."

Smart Choices article

As a consumer, how do you feel about the Smart Choices program? Do you think it is based on sound nutrition guidelines? Are you hoping for more regulated labeling?

As a producer, are you looking for a front-of-package label to put on your nutrtious product? Should this label(s) be designed voluntarily by groups such as The Keystone Center or should it be federally overseen by the FDA or other government agency?