Since hitting the market in 2009, Coca-Cola Freestyle has reinvented the fountain beverage experience by offering an unprecedented array of drink choices in a fun, interactive format. And the sleek, touchscreen-operated dispensers are boosting guest traffic and beverage sales in restaurants, cinemas, amusement parks, convenience stores and other Coca-Cola customers across North America and a handful of other countries.

While traditional fountains offer between six and eight choices, Coca-Cola Freestyle uses micro-dosing technology to deliver more than 150 sparkling and still beverages on demand, including more than 70 low/no-calorie options and 90-plus caffeine-free selections. Coca-Cola Freestyle offers a variety of drinks for every taste, lifestyle and occasion – including more than 80 brands that can’t be found anywhere else.

The Freestyle distribution footprint has doubled in size since 2014 and shows no signs of slowing down. More than 40,000 units are currently serving a combined 14 million 8-ounce drinks per day, and machines are being installed each week in new markets and channels. The team also continues to push the innovation envelope with new equipment models, marketing, brands and more.

We caught up with Coca-Cola Freestyle leads Joel Bishop and Chris Hellmann for an update on initial results, recent developments and the road ahead.

Doubling the Coca-Cola Freestyle business over the last two years is no small feat. How’d you do it?

Bishop: First, we’re doing a better job understanding how Coca-Cola Freestyle can uniquely enhance our customers’ brands and their guests’ experience. We’re leveraging Freestyle not just as a fountain dispenser, but as a true marketing asset customers can can use to build their business. We’re also continuing to look for ways to innovate and enhance Coca-Cola Freestyle experience and develop solutions that fit with our customers’ concepts.

Hellman: Our latest innovation, the Coca-Cola Freestyle 7000, is a great example. It’s a smaller countertop dispenser that brings the Freestyle experience to mid-volume customers – sandwich shops, mom-and-pops and the like. We’ve installed 1,500 of these self-contained units, which offer 80 beverage choices (compared to 150 for the flagship model) and, importantly for these customers, drive operational efficiencies. We’re currently testing two more dispensers internationally. Importantly, the same consumer interface is used across the entire fleet, and all Coca-Cola Freestyle machines use micro-dosing technology. This ensures consistency of the user experience and superior beverage quality and great taste our fans love. We’re also bringing new brands and categories to the platform.

Coca-Cola Freestyle Lineup

Coca-Cola Freestyle got its start in the quick-service restaurant channel. Have you expanded into other outlet types?

Hellmann: Indeed, the experience is proving successful across a wide array of channels – from convenience retail and grocery, to theme parks and theaters, to colleges and universities. There are 22 out-of-home beverage occasions, which are typically fulfilled by various retail categories. Coca-Cola Freestyle allows us to refresh consumers with a variety of beverages throughout the day in the locations they prefer. 

Top 10 Freestyle Drinks Callout

Speaking of consumers, what feedback are we seeing?

Hellmann: They love the machine, they love to interact with it. And six years into our commercialization journey, we’re no longer in the honeymoon period. Choice and great taste always come up, but we’re also starting to hear comments like: “I love revisiting my favorites and experimenting with new brands or mixes on Freestyle.” For example, Barq’s (root beer) is one of our most popular brands.

'Our research shows that traffic to outlets with a Coca-Cola Freestyle dispenser is higher than outlets without one. This means consumers are seeking out the Freestyle experience largely because of the range of Freestyle-exclusive beverage options they can’t find anywhere else. More than 80 percent of consumers we surveyed said the presence of Freestyle makes the overall restaurant experience more enjoyable.'

Bishop: We’re contemporizing the Coca-Cola Freestyle experience with a new digital interface, which improves perceptions of Coke – and our customers – as an innovator and delivers a more engaging experience. And our mobile app enables fans to create custom mixes that maintain the consistent quality of every pour. The fact that every brand on Freestyle has its own carefully crafted recipe enhances that quality and and builds consumer loyalty.


What steps are you taking to brand Coca-Cola Freestyle?

Hellmann: Freestyle is unique in that we’re treating as a marketing asset, not a piece of commercial equipment. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to making an overt connection with the consumer. We’re rolling out a new visual identity and campaign with the tagline “Choose Freely”. Our customers are onboard because they see Freestyle as an asset they can use to market their programs and offerings.

Choose Freely

What impact has Coca-Cola Freestyle had on our customers – both in terms of the bottom line and brand perception?

Bishop: Our research shows that traffic to outlets with a Coca-Cola Freestyle dispenser is higher than outlets without one. This means consumers are seeking out the Freestyle experience largely because of the range of Freestyle-exclusive beverage options they can’t find anywhere else. More than 80 percent of consumers we surveyed said the presence of Freestyle makes the overall restaurant experience more enjoyable. We’re seeing it impact consumers out-of-home dining choices, which translates into more visits, more beverage sales and overall revenue for our customers. Our sparkling brands are growing double digits on Freestyle – Sprite is our fastest-growing trademark on Freestyle – and we’re seeing similar results on the stills side.

'Our total footprint is growing, and our family of dispensers is growing. And most importantly, inside the outlet we have a real category growth story developing.'

Hellmann: We’re seeing a strong increase in volume compared to outlets with legacy fountain equipment, both for sparkling and stills. Customers are never far away from the P&L…they recognize that if Freestyle drives stores traffic and beverage incidence, then it will drive profits.

The total Coca-Cola Freestyle business will represent over 200 million unit cases by the end of this year. It’s big and growing. Our total footprint is growing, and our family of dispensers is growing. And most importantly, inside the outlet we have a real category growth story developing.