The COVID-19 global pandemic has forced companies across industries—including the restaurant industry, one of the first and perhaps hardest hit by the pandemic—to rapidly adapt to evolving consumer behaviors, including the desire for contactless experiences. With nearly 80 of its U.S. beverage dispensers inside restaurants, the team at Coca-Cola’s Freestyle Equipment Innovation Center acted quickly to find a new way for their foodservice partners to continue to provide the beverages their guests want on a platform they love.
"We're investing a lot of time to understand how consumer behaviors are evolving throughout the pandemic and making sure our tech strategy matches those and future behaviors," said Thomas Stubbs, VP of Engineering & Innovation, Coca-Cola Freestyle. "Our foodservice and entertainment partners are working tirelessly to create and maintain a safe environment for their guests. And while all Coca-Cola beverage dispensers are safe with recommended care and cleaning, we acted quickly when the pandemic hit to reimagine the future of the Freestyle machine and get ahead of shifting consumer needs."
“This innovation is the epitome of customer obsession—using evolving consumer expectations as inspiration for an even better experience.”
The Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, which is available in 17 countries, is not your traditional soda fountain. First introduced in 2009, these innovative beverage dispensers were designed using a touchscreen interface and feature 200+ Coca-Cola beverage options. Users can select from mixtures of flavors of Coca-Cola products, such as Strawberry Sprite combined with Fuze Tea, which are then individually dispensed.
From concept to cup in 100 days
To make the experience completely contactless, Coca-Cola Freestyle worked with its longtime cloud provider, Amazon Web Services (AWS), to collaborate on a technology solution that enables users to operate the machines with their smartphones. As soon as the pandemic hit, the Coca-Cola Freestyle team was able to develop, test, and deploy software code to the machines—all while mostly working from home—just 100 days after the initial concept was complete. AWS co-designed the architecture that helped create the extremely fast solution.
The "mobile pour" solution for Coca-Cola Freestyle dispensers is like having the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine’s interface right on the user’s phone. With no app to download or account to sign into, a user simply scans the machine’s QR code to bring the Freestyle user interface to their phone screen. The mobile web experience is designed to be intuitive for the user and looks simple by design, but that belies what’s going on in the background—and in the cloud.
"The technology behind mobile pour makes the experience so simple and so fast, a common misconception is that everything is happening locally," explained Michael Connor, Chief Architect, Coca-Cola Freestyle. "What’s actually happening is a series of signals and steps taking place in the cloud—verifying that each phone is connected to the right machine, only in-stock beverages are shown as flavor options, and that pours start and stop with the touch of a button on the phone screen. All this needs to happen in near-real time so when users release their finger from the 'Pour' button on their phone, the machine instantly stops pouring to avoid overflows and spills. It's imperative to the user experience that there isn't a delay in the communication between the phone and the machine, which is why we're committed to a serverless approach. What would normally be a complex architecture—with the amount of security, precision, and latency required—is simplified by using services like AWS Lambda to create a magical experience for the user."
By quickly deploying the new web experience on AWS, Coca-Cola Freestyle is helping its foodservice and entertainment customers be more prepared for a contactless future. "We worked very closely with our customers to understand what they needed in their dining rooms, and we piloted early versions at Wendy's, Firehouse Subs, and Five Guys just six weeks after our initial brainstorm," said Daisy Teoh, Director of Innovation, Coca-Cola Freestyle. "It was an iterative process done in collaboration with our customer teams, and we are still continuing to improve the user experience as they give us feedback."
Today, more than 30,000 machines have the touchless capability and, by the end of 2020, all Freestyle machines in the U.S. will be touchless, with worldwide deployment of the technology to follow.
"This innovation is the epitome of customer obsession—using evolving consumer expectations as inspiration for an even better experience," said David Ahuja, Head of Worldwide Consumer Packaged Goods at AWS. "Coca-Cola Freestyle is paving the way for touchless experiences across other industries. With touchpads in our pockets, just think of all the ways we can improve upon today's contact-based machines."