Tuesday, March 13, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Ever crave an orange-flavored Diet Coke or a Peach Sprite? A touch-screen soda fountain designed by Coca-Cola is popping up at fast-food restaurants around Las Vegas, offering more than 100 different flavor combinations sure to please even the most adventurous soda connoisseurs.
Perhaps the biggest advance in soda-dispensing technology since the age of drugstore soda fountains, the Coca-Cola Freestyle was designed by the Italian automobile design firm behind Ferrari and uses special cartridges to deliver micro-doses of flavoring, similar to medical technology used to dispense drugs to patients, according to Coke.
“We believed it was time for a revolution. When you walk up and down a grocery store aisle, there are hundreds of different kinds of beverages, but that wasn’t represented in the food-service industry,” said Desiree Kriel, a Phoenix-based senior customer marketing manager for Coca-Cola. “We’re giving customers what they’re seeing in stores. … We’re giving them unprecedented choices.”
The machines have popped up at 22 locations around the Las Vegas Valley, including in all Five Guys Burgers and Fries restaurants, all Firehouse Subs and all Wingstops. Nationwide, more than 2,000 machines have been deployed since the Freestyle launched in 2009.
Kriel said in addition to giving customers more options, the machines bring a new level of fun and interactivity to the drink-selection process. They also do away with the old syrup-based technology that was used to flavor drinks and sometimes resulted in inconsistent flavorings from store to store.
“We now have consistency across every Coca-Cola Freestyle machine,” she said. “It’s the exact same Diet Coke recipe that you’ll get anywhere else in the country or the globe.”
Stores that have installed the machines have generally seen increased foot traffic and beverage sales, Kriel said.
With 14 flavors of Coca-Cola and Diet Coke, eight different flavors of Fanta, plus options for flavored water or flavored Powerade sports drink, navigating the Freestyle machine can be intimidating. But the touch interface makes cycling through the different options easy, and with so many choices, customers can try new flavors until they find one they like, Kriel said.
“People want to try it out and see what they’ll fall in love with,” she said.
During a recent lunch hour at a Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Henderson, a steady stream of customers made its way to the Freestyle machine. The customers used their fingers to navigate the touch screen until they found a drink they liked.
Some stuck to the basics, opting for classic Coca-Cola or a Barq’s root beer. Others, feeling more adventurous, tested new combinations like Raspberry Coke and Grape Mello Yello.
The options and touch screen confused some, but those waiting in lines were eager to help others figure out the new machines. The price was comparable with soft drinks at most valley fast-food outlets.
“It was pretty easy to work,” said Nick Johnson, who had stopped at the restaurant for a burger. “I like Coke, so I went with that.”