The future of Soda Fountain dispensing has arrived, at least in beta testing form. When I stopped at the San Marcos, California location of Noodles & Company to redeem the free bowl of pasta offer I received for my birthday from the chain, I discovered they have installed a new soda fountain machine which according the signs offers over 100 different flavor combinations. Amazingly the machine didn’t seem to be much any bigger space wise than a traditional fountain machine except for the fact it was freestanding instead of having to be mounted on a counter. The opening within which to place the cup seemed to be styled from the “Men In Black” school of retro looking futuristic designs.
Instead of offering individual taps for each of the 100+ flavors, there was just a single opening in the Coca-Cola Freestyle Fountain. You just insert the cup against the lever in the back to have ice drop through the machine into your cup, then just allow the cup to sit in the center while using the touchscreen to pick the brand of beverage to bring up a sub menu of available flavors from which you can choose to fill the cup with. Many of the flavor choices are ones that aren’t available in retail stores as bottled choices because there simply is no way any store would ever carry that many different flavors.
There were many major brands to choose from, some of which have a Diet or “Zero” option which allows the choices to be sugar-free as well. Albeit sugar-free using Aspartame or more commonly known as NutraSweet. Clearly once Coca-Cola starts replacing those toxic chemical sugar free options with natural sugar substitutes such as Truvia which is made with Stevia, these Coke products will be a better sugar free option. Currently Coca-Cola has only introduced Truvia in their not quite major brands like VitaminWater10, and Odwalla Juices. They are also in the product test phase for a version of Sprite made with Truvia under the name “Sprite Green.”
The major brand choices that the Coca-Cola Freestyle fountain were offering me today at the Noodles & Company were, Dasani Water, Dasani Sensations (Carbonated Dasani options), Fanta, Fanta Zero (Sugar Free Fanta), Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Caffeine Free Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Mr. Pibb, Diet Mr. Pibb, Hi-C, Minute Maid Lemonade, Minute Maid Light Lemonade, Sprite, Sprite Zero, Barq’s Root Beer, Diet Barq’s, Vault, Powerade, Powerade Zero, and of course, plain ol’ water. Each of the various brands would lead to a secondary screen from which there could be no additional sub flavors (such as the water and Root Beer choices) or several (pretty much every other brand). The secondary menu would have the most popular flavor already pre-selected as a large button in the middle of the screen and the additional flavor choices that all you had to do was simply touch the flavor you wanted so that it would get highlighted with a thick ring to indicate it was selected. Then just press the pour button (which conveniently looks just like the ring that outlines the selected flavor on the screen) below the touch screen and the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine magically mixes your drink for you as it pours.
When I approached the machine, I immediately went for the Fanta Zero menu to look at the various choices. I always liked Fanta flavors back when I was drinking sodas with sugar, so the opportunity to try the flavors in a sugar-free version appealed to me. Granted, I would still have preferred it to be sweetened with Truvia than NutraSweet, but until Coke makes that change, I don’t have the option just yet. The secondary Fanta Zero menu presented with me the option of having Fanta Zero in Orange (as the default flavor), as well as the choices of Fruit Punch, Lime, Grape, Strawberry, Peach, Raspberry, and Cherry. This sure beats having only Diet Coke as the only sugar free flavor option. I decided to try the Grape flavor first and then when I came back for a refill I opted for Peach since it sounded like the most exotic of the flavors and least likely to ever be seen in the stores. Both were good. I never would have suspected they were sugar free. I would certainly consider having them again.
When I got home I did a little research on the machines to find out some more information about them. According to press information I’ve seen, these machines are really quite state of the art. They don’t use big boxes of syrup like traditional fountains, in fact, the machines don’t require any back room support, just a connection to a water supply. They use flavor cartridges that get mixed to create the various flavors. The computer built into the machine keeps track of the levels of the cartridges and is in constant communication with Coca-Cola’s headquarters so that new flavor combinations can be downloaded or even current flavors discontinued at a moment’s notice. This allows the company to monitor the popularity of flavors as well as keep the local distributor informed of when the local machine needs to have cartridges of flavoring replaced. The “PurePour” technology as they’re calling it was actually derived from technology created for exact dosing of dialysis and cancer drugs (oddly appropriate as a lifestyle of consuming too much sugar will create the need for both kinds of drugs.)
The press releases indicate the machines are currently being test marketed in Atlanta, Georgia and Southern California. A list of the locations in Southern California where a Coke Freestyle machine has been installed (or soon to be installed) can be found by clicking here. Essentially for San Diego county, it’s the Jack In The Box locations in Bonsall, Vista, San Marcos, and Escondido and one location in each of Oceanside and Carlsbad that have it in addition to the Noodles And Company in San Marcos. The Orange County locations are a bit more varied in the restaurants installed. They can be found in a Carl’s Jr, Subway sandwich shop, El Pollo Loco chicken restaurant, and Pei Wei Chinese food locations, click here for clicking here.
If you’d like to check out a rather dry video introduction to the Coca-Cola Freestyle Fountain made by the software developer that made the software that powers the fountain, click here. Although a better introduction is one made by some random guy testing it out at a San Diego area Jack In The Box location. Just click play below.