Coca-Cola just invented a way to save the soda machine from COVID-19

Brian Sozzi

Coca-Cola (KO) has figured out a way to save its highly profitable fountain soda business from becoming extinct at the germy hands of COVID-19.

The solution: QR codes and your smartphone.

Coca-Cola said Monday it has made its popular Freestyle soda machine — which could be found at scores of fast-food restaurants such as Wendy’s and McDonald’s and corporate offices — completely contactless. By updating the machine’s software package, a consumer will be able to hold their camera up to the machine’s display which will auto-scan a QR code. That then connects to the cloud and brings the machine’s user interface direct to your smartphone. The drinker then selects from the full menu of options and hits pour.

No app download required.

“All Coca-Cola beverage dispensers are safe with recommended care and cleaning,” said Coca-Cola Freestyle Vice President and General Manager Chris Hellmann in a statement. “But in these uncertain times, Coca-Cola is providing consumers a new option – a touchless fountain experience. It has been exciting to see our team continue to innovate – mostly from home – to meet the evolving needs of customers and consumers. Our partners are doing everything they can to maintain a safe and hygienic dining environment, and we’re doing all we can to provide options for their guests to continue to pour the beverages they want on a platform they love.”

New Coca-Cola Freestyle machine.
New Coca-Cola Freestyle machine.

Released in 2009, the Coke Freestyle machine in many respects revolutionized fountain soda consumption by using technology to unlock almost endless drink options. In life before COVID-19, one would walk up to the Freestyle machine, select a drink by touching the screen and be on your merry way. But that exercise doesn’t appear feasible for restaurants and businesses as they reopen from the pandemic — touching a public computer screen right now isn’t too different from touching a train station toilet seat. In many restaurants, for instance, the fountain machine remains closed.

That has required Coke to figure out a way to reinvent the user experiences so owners of the machines could continue to drive profits. Coke says its software upgrade for the machines —which took only a few weeks — will be pushed out to 10,000 machines later this summer. All of the Freestyle machines will receive the software upgrade by year end.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and co-anchor of The First Trade at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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