REDMOND, Wash. — April 5, 2011 — Remember going into a convenience store as a child and trying out all the different sodas from the fountain dispenser? Can you imagine how excited you would have been if, instead of six or eight drinks, you’d had more than a hundred to try? On a rainy Seattle morning earlier this month we saw area journalists and bloggers relive that sense of discovery and fun when the Coca-Cola Company and Taco Time NW introduced Coca-Cola Freestyle® at a media open house at Taco Time NW in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood.
For days prior to the event, Twitter was buzzing with posts from Taco Time NW customers who stopped in for a meal at one of the four locations with Coca-Cola Freestyle, and discovered its unprecedented variety of beverage choices and fun touch-screen interface. Each Coca-Cola Freestyle can dispense more than 100 regular and low-calorie branded beverages — including many varieties of waters, sports drinks, lemonades and sparkling beverages that, before Coca-Cola Freestyle, were not available in the U.S. Even with all these options, the machine uses the same amount of space as today’s six- or eight-valve fountains.
Gene Farrell, Coca-Cola Freestyle vice president and general manager, demonstrates the interactive fountain dispenser powered by Windows Embedded.
Gene Farrell, Coca-Cola Freestyle vice president and general manager, was also present at the open house and shared some key insights that the company gained as it introduced the device in pilot markets across the United States.
“Before this technology was available, it was never practical to offer consumers such a large selection of beverage options on a daily basis over a long period of time. This was a chance to create an unprecedented beverage experience for consumers,” Farrell said. “What Coca-Cola Freestyle demonstrates is that the Long Tail effect holds as true with beverages as it does with other consumer products — such as books, DVDs and music — that are being delivered in revolutionary new ways through technology. Coca-Cola Freestyle offers consumers unprecedented choice — more than 100 brands across sparkling and still categories.”
Farrell explained that a database in Atlanta uses Microsoft SQL CE 3.0 to collect data on how consumers are using Coca-Cola Freestyle and to provide it to the company in real time. The Coca-Cola Freestyle fountain dispenser in the Queen Anne Taco Time NW location will collect information that reveals what the area’s preferred options are. In addition to providing valuable insight into consumer behavior, this information-gathering and reporting makes it easy to track inventory levels within each fountain dispenser and restock them appropriately.
Powered by Windows Embedded, The Coca-Cola Company originated the design and concept for Coca-Cola Freestyle with a number of technology partners that helped bring the concept to life, including Windows Embedded Gold Partner BSQUARE.
“We worked closely with the Coca-Cola Company and studied consumer feedback to provide the software that would ultimately power Coca-Cola Freestyle,” said BSQUARE CEO Brian Crowley, who attended the event. “Our collective work throughout the development process enabled a solution that provides rich, immersive user experiences all through a simple-to-use design.”
Taco Time NW is the first customer of the Coca-Cola Company in the Pacific Northwest to feature Coca-Cola Freestyle at its locations. The fountain dispensers are currently available in 15 Taco Time NW locations. The Coca-Cola Freestyle fan page on Facebook includes a locator map showing where Coca-Cola Freestyle has been installed.
When asked what the most popular Coca-Cola Freestyle beverage choices are among Taco Time NW customers, Gretchen Everett, marketing and advertising director for Taco Time NW, replied, “The most popular beverage choice is actually something called a ‘creamsicle,’” she said. “You make it by mixing one part Vanilla Coke® with one part Orange Coke®. There’s also one called the ‘gummy bear,’ which is all the flavors of Sprite® mixed together.”
“When you give people such a wide variety of flavors at the touch of a button, and a fun interface to play with, it unleashes their creativity,” Everett added.
Nearby, a local journalist explored the dispenser’s touch-screen interface with a delighted smile on her face. Reporters such as GeekWire’s John Cook later shared their freestylin’ soda experience with readers.
Visit the Coca-Cola Freestyle Facebook page to find more information on locations and beverage selections, as well as photos and videos from fans.