Finally a concept could become reality that Joe Pine has described more than 16 years ago (as a future dream scenario) in his book "Mass Customization": The ultimate soda fountain that offers unlimited choice, as Owen Morris in a newspaper article and Tim Stevens in Engadget.com report. (Note: I could not get more information about this concept. But if you know more, please drop me a line as I am very interested in these kind of localized customization devices).
Currently, your typical soda fountain in a fast-food joint features perhaps eight to ten standard choices, usually offering nothing more exotic than "peach flavored ice tea." These machines work through syrup bags. The restaurant buys a bag from Coke or Pepsi, hooks it up to a soda (water) line and then the fountain combines the carbonated water with the syrup to create your soda. The machines are limited by soda lines, which tend to gunk up with sugar mold, and by bulky soda bags that weigh 30 pounds or more.
The new Coke machine is completely different. Coca-Cola has announced a new soda fountain that can hold more than 100 sodas. That's ten times more than current soda fountains.
The new fountain is like an ink printer with space for hundreds of cartridges. Each cartridge contains a concentrated formula of ingredients. When you press your choice, say Diet Coke, the machine will tell cartridge 12 to release three squirts, cartridge 81 two squirts and so on, then it combines it with carbonated water and you get the same drink as old machines.
But: The new fountains can hold a lot more of these little cartridges, so they can handle a lot more flavors. Coca-Cola promises 120 different drinks, but there could be even more as the technology gets better and the company gets more confident. You think these are way to many choices for a standard drink like sodas? Think again; Already today, Coca-Cola is listing more than 2,800 beverages on their website! And I personally would love to have a German "Apfelschorle" with still water and a 20:80 mix of juice to water … something even waiters have a problem to bring in a restaurant.
The first new fountains are rolling out in Atlanta and California in this spring. Assuming tests there go well and the public loves its overwhelming choices, the new fountains would come to other US cities next year.
But there may be a downside: How will Coke protects its customers from the paradox of choice, when too many options overwhelm our brains and shuts them down from making a decision. Just think of the lines as "the thirsty yet indecisive ponder 15 different flavors of Diet Coke?" (Tim Stevens).
Update: Press release from The Coca Cola Company on April 28, 2009:
THE COCA-COLA COMPANY INVITES CONSUMERS TO EXPERIENCE “FREESTYLE”
New Proprietary Fountain Dispenser Gets a Brand Name
ATLANTA, Apr. 28, 2009 – The next generation fountain beverage dispenser has a “stylish” new name.
North America today revealed that “Coca-Cola Freestyle TM” is the brand name and logo for its new proprietary fountain dispenser entering market testing this summer. The fountain’s brand name captures its ability to deliver unprecedented beverage variety to suit any consumer taste – all packaged in an innovative and interactive fountain experience.
“Coca-Cola Freestyle brings to life the refreshingly positive outlook that has always been associated with Coca-Cola,” said Chandra Stephens-Albright, Group Director of Marketing and Business Development for the brand.
“It brings back the magic of the fountain of the past, re-imagines it for the future and then takes it a step farther by celebrating the idea that consumers can truly have their say at fountain – with choices tailored completely for them.”
The new self-serve fountains – which represent a complete departure from equipment The Coca-Cola Company has offered before – have been in development for nearly four years. The sleek new units being tested are touch screen operated, enabling consumers to select from more than 100 calorie and no-calorie brands – including varieties of waters, juices, teas and sparkling beverages that have never been sold in the United States.
The Coca-Cola Freestyle dispenser uses proprietary PurePour Technology™ to make dozens of branded beverages fresh to order, in the same amount of space as the current eight-valve machine. It will be tested in select quick-serve restaurants in Orange County, Calif., and Atlanta this summer before a wider introduction currently planned for early next year.