Coca-Cola Freestyle Pilots in Canada

Coca-Cola Freestyle - courtesy of timeoutchicago.comCoca-Cola recently launched their Freestyle touch-screen fountain machine in Canadian test markets.  Launched just over a month ago (May 2012), the fountain unit has been spotted at fast food establishments like Wendy’s and Hero Burgers, as well as entertainment venues like Canada’s Wonderland and the Scotiabank Theatre.  I was able to locate one of the units at a Hero Burger, but did not try it out since I was actually head to dinner at another location close by.  It will be a trip for another meal.

The Coca-Cola Freestyle fountain unit can dispense up to 104 different beverage flavors through small flavor cartridges housed by the machine.  Compared to a regular fountain unit that typically holds 8 or 10 fountain heads connected to large syrup bags, this extends the amount of variety and selection greatly for the consumer.  The touch screen function also allows the user to mix and match their own flavors, while the flavors selected become data collected by Coca-Cola.

Now that the fountain unit can be found in Canada, will it have the same sort of excitement and impact that it had when launched in the United States?  My interpretation is that it will not reach identical levels of excitement relative to the United States.  The excitement is only limited to the  Greater Toronto Area where selective establishments have the Freestyle, whereas the United States it is available nationally.  Simply put, consumption is much less here in Canada, so releasing it to an even smaller test market limits the amount of excitement that can be generated.

Freestyle Touch Panel

The interesting component for the Freestyle unit is the impact it may have in Canada.  The 104 flavors available in Canada are a smaller, similar set to the 125 flavors available in the United States.  This alone has far-reaching implications since Coca-Cola’s product portfolio in Canada is much smaller than our neighbors down South.  Through the Freestyle, Canadians can now enjoy a multitude of flavors that were previously unavailable.  Heard of Coca-Cola Orange, or Coca-Cola Cherry Vanilla?  Both these obscure flavors are available through the fountain machine.  Heard of Pibb, Diet Barq’s, Fanta Zero and Hi-C?  All these products plus various other flavors are also available.  Environics, Coca-Cola Canada’s communications company, has the full assortment of flavors available here.

The availability of these flavors have strong implications for the company in Canada.  The consumption information collected will show Coca-Cola not only consumer taste preferences, but also what products to launch next.  For example, Canadians may prefer citrus more and this will lead to a variety of citrus-infused products on store shelves.  Or there may exist a stronger preference for zero-calorie products and these will replace slow movers on store shelves as well.  Coca-Cola can also leverage the data gathered to target consumers with attractive flavors more precisely.  Using the data, Coca-Cola can see what flavors interact the most, and launch these flavors in bottles/cans rather than being available exclusively through the Freestyle.  These flavors will have a better chance of success than previously launched failures flavors (ie Coke Blak, Sprite Zero, Dasani Essentials).  Grocery retailers may also be more welcoming of these flavors should data prove that existing consumers actively prefer these flavor combinations.

Is the Freestyle machine a game changer for the beverage industry in Canada, more than it is for the United States?  The type of machine is a game-changer, since there are many more flavors that are not available here in Canada.  There’s no doubt that Pepsi has a machine similar to the Freestyle (BevReview has the story here) so both beverage companies can influence the future of the beverage landscape in Canada.

We’ll know for sure that the rollout strategy is a success when the pilot testing extends nationally.  And we’ll know that the impact when we see grocery stores selling flavors we had previously only found through the Freestyle.


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