Swirling Innovation: Pepsi Intros Spire, Coke Adds Smaller Freestyle

The everlasting battle between PepsiCo and The Coca-Cola Co. featured a new chapter at the 2014 National Restaurant Association convention, where in a game of one-upmanship, the two companies unveiled competing customized fountain dispensing units, with innovation designed to offer consumers and foodservice operators greater variety.

A year removed from PepsiCo’s test launch of “Touch Tower,” a flavor-blending soda fountain dispenser, the company introduced “Spire,” a new line of customized beverage machines that offer consumers the ability to add flavors to PepsiCo drinks. Spire comes in three models — two counter-top units and a free-standing machine — and is expected to offer significant competition to The Coca-Cola Co.’s Freestyle, a vending machine-sized fountain dispenser with 100 different Coca-Cola products for consumers to choose from and create custom beverages.

PepsiCo Spire Equipment Portfolio

Designed with what Pepsi describes as “state-of-the-art” touchscreens, Spire machines will dispense a variety of Pepsi brands, including Mountain Dew, Sierra Mist, Brisk Iced Tea and SoBe Lifewater and several zero-calorie flavor shots, including cherry, lemon, vanilla, strawberry, raspberry and lime. The units are now available in select U.S. locations and will continue to roll out through 2014, according to a company statement.

“We are in the middle of an exciting evolution of personalization,” said Brad Jakeman, president, PepsiCo Global Beverages Group. “The ‘maker movement’ has influenced the way people relate to brands and one another and design has infiltrated everything we consume.”

The three Spire models are each designed to meet a specific set of foodservice customer needs, Pepsi said. Pepsi Spire 1.1 is a countertop self-service unit designed with a 10-inch touchscreen that allows consumers to create up to 40 beverage combinations. Pepsi Spire 2.0 is a countertop self-service unit that comes with a 15-inch screen and can create up to 500 beverage combinations. Pepsi Spire 5.0, which has yet to launch, allows consumers to create more than 1,000 beverage combinations using a 32-inch touchscreen. The 5.0 unit will be available as both a self-service countertop or as a free-standing unit.

Pepsi’s Touch Tower had been tested at a number of retail chains Denver-area locations of Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill, and the new Spire units are likely to become available at other restaurant partners of the cola giant, including Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Buffalo Wild Wings, which in December announced that Pepsi would become the restaurant’s primary non-alcoholic beverage provider.

Coca-Cola_Freestyle_medium_volume_dispenser_1Meanwhile, Coke has extended its Freestyle platform with three new countertop units that “will significantly expand the number of customer locations suited for the technology,” according to the company. Designed with the same touchscreen technology as its primary Freestyle machine, the new machines include two “designed for medium volume locations that are able to dispense 80 different beverage choices,” and a third unit “designed for locations such as work break rooms or cafes and provides more than 35 drink options.”

Unlike Spire and traditional fountain dispensers, which use bag-in-box syrup, Freestyle’s concentrated ingredients are stored in MicroMax cartridges. The cost of the cartridges is higher than bag-in-box concentrates, yet they require less storage space.

“Since Coca-Cola Freestyle made its debut in 2009, it has proven to be a game-changer,” Jennifer Mann, Vice President and General Manager, Coca-Cola Freestyle, said in a statement. “People are amazed by the variety of choices and our customers see increased sales. Through a relentless focus on innovation we are now able to provide a Coca-Cola Freestyle dispenser appropriate for the unique needs of customers while still giving the same great beverage experience.”

Coke said that it will pilot the smaller Freestyle units by the end of the year, the company currently has   20,000 of its primary Freestyle dispensers in 150 markets across 48 U.S. states. The machines are available in select locations of Firehouse Subs, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Burger King and McDonald’s restaurants as well as 7-Eleven, Hess Express and Tedeschi’s convenience stores.