By Reik Read, Robert W. Baird & Co.
Coca-Cola has introduced a new fountain dispenser, called Freestyle, which allows significantly more consumer choice at self-service stations, with 100 drink combinations versus between 6-12 choices with existing equipment. Freestyle will primarily serve fast food restaurants (consider McDonald's and Burger King, which use Coke products), movie theatres and convenience stores. Combinations could include caffeine-free diet-coke with lime, or PowerAde with Vitamin C (yes, Coke plans to provide options for the health-conscious).
Coke has alpha tested this product with over 10,000 customers, which met with strong success. In addition to stronger customer interaction, Coke sees meaningful operational and marketing benefits. Operationally, the Freestyle design leverages "micro-dosing" of high-concentrate cartridges versus large bags of concentrate. The cartridges are smaller, and thus easier and less costly to transport and store, and are easier to install.
Coke leveraged RFID to help with several aspects of the unit operations, including shipping, unit refill, safety and usage. At manufacture, each cartridge of concentrate is equipped with an RFID tag, which allows automated shipping confirmation, including ensuring that each box contains the correct contents and that each box is moving the correct shipping destination.