For food retailers who grapple with how best to merchandise and display beverage assortments in their foodservice and deli areas, one solution may be found at the touch of a button — or, more accurately, the touch of a touchscreen.
Ever since Coca-Cola Freestyle® machines began appearing in restaurants in 2009, consumers have enjoyed branded recipes that satisfy a multitude of consumer occasions and life-styles while creating a variety of unique beverage combinations.
Coca-Cola Freestyle dispensers recently become even more engaging with a new touchscreen interface layout, a new promotional component, and a mobile app that further elevates Coca-Cola Freestyle's appeal.
The new user interface, which groups the 100-plus Coca-Cola brands into four categories, is preferred three to one by consumers, according to 2015 research by Harrison Group. The four groupings — low- and no-calorie, fruit flavors, caffeine-free and "show me everything" (the full portfolio of beverage choices) — make using the machine faster, easier and more fun, consumers say.
The new interface also increases the likelihood that shoppers will come back for more, and tell their friends about the experience, the Harrison Group research found. Ninety-three percent of consumers selected their beverages using the new interface and said they would be "extremely" or "very" interested in returning to buy fountain beverages at that location. While 91 percent expressed a similar level of interest in recommending the outlet to their friends and family.
In addition, organizing the dispenser and brand lineup in this manner leads consumers to select more non-core variety than they did before, because it makes the low-calorie and caffeine-free brands easier to discover.
The Coca-Cola Freestyle machine itself is a promotional vehicle by virtue of its sleek presence, but its "wow" factor is further enhanced through Coca-Cola's "Guest Connect" programs, which use the display screen to highlight special offers and promotions.
For example, this past spring Coca-Cola partnered with a Grammy Award-winning country music group to offer special drink mixes associated with individual members of the band.
"The ability to do limited-time-offer promo mixes is a new element of consumer engagement we have been able to bring customers this year," says Joel Bishop, general manager for Coca-Cola Freestyle North America. "This is a very compelling way to offer shoppers something new in addition to the favorites they already love."
The screens also can be used to promote certain beverages, food-and-beverage pairings, or messages and promotions specific to the individual retailer. The wireless internet connectivity of each machine allows messages to be controlled remotely and customized by chain.
The mobile app provides perhaps the most engaging aspect of the experience, particularly for young consumers. It has been downloaded more than 1 million times, providing an electronic tether between these consumers and their favorite Coca-Cola Freestyle-equipped locations.
Among the features is a location finder — used more than 300,000 times in 2015 — which allows app users to find their nearest Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, literally driving traffic to the retailer's doorstep.
The mobile app also extends the customization factor that has helped give Coca-Cola Freestyle much of its buzz in the first place. Now consumers can create brand mixes whenever they feel inspired, save them in the app, and then connect to the QR code on the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine to dispense the mix via the personalized menu that appears on the touchscreen.
This serves to elevate the "buzz" factor that already surrounds Coca-Cola Freestyle, and facilitates social sharing and connectivity among the users' friends and followers. An analysis of social media posts about Coca-Cola Freestyle found the two most common words used were "love" and "awesome," according to research from Netbase Insights.
In addition, the research found that 45 percent of social media posts about Coca-Cola Freestyle in 2015 mentioned a specific beverage, and 73 percent mentioned a specific flavor.
For retailers, Coca-Cola Freestyle is a powerful vehicle for driving traffic and sales in the highly profitable dispensed beverage category, in part because it leverages the muscle of a broad family of well-known and well-liked beverage brands, led by Coca-Cola.
The Coca-Cola Freestyle experience is also available for retail operators in a new size. The Coca-Cola Freestyle 7000, a slimmed-down, countertop version offers 60-plus beverage choices and many of the same customized, interactive experiences uniquely available through Coca-Cola Freestyle.