Pepsi unveiled the Spire, its new soda fountain capable of making 1,000 different beverage flavors, at the National Restaurant Association Show Saturday.
The new machine is available to customers at more than 50 U.S. locations so far, and is a direct response to Coca Cola's Freestyle machines, The New York Times reported
"Soda fountains in pharmacies and apothecaries, where this all started, were points of engagement where an amazing amount of creativity and innovation took place at the hands of the soda jerk," PepsiCo's president of global beverages group Brad Jakeman said in a statement. "But somewhere along the line, what was an experience has turned into a transaction, and that's got to change."
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Modern soda fountains, bulky steel boxes with separate nozzles for each flavor, were always designed and manufactured by third party vendors until Coke became the first soft drink company to begin exploring other options in 2004.
The Freestyle fountain made its debut in 2009, offering more than 100 different Coke products dispensed via touchscreen through a single nozzle. The company has since rolled out 20,000 of the machines across the country, and nowadays customers can even plan their flavor mixes ahead of time with a smartphone app.
The Pepsi Spire, in addition to taking up little or no floor space as compared to the Freestyle, comes in three sizes and offers a number of advantages for restaurant owners and other venues that dispense soda.
"Our machine addresses a lot of the issues that restaurant owners said they had with other machines: wait times, the cost of the machine was too high. It required a new operating system; they had to train their workers how to use a new cartridge. So I think our machine is just different. It's the 21st-, 22nd-century machine," Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi told the audience at the restaurant conference, according to CNBC
John Faucher, beverage industry analyst for JPMorgan Chase, said Coke's track record with the machines thus far has been middling, and he isn't sure the new machines will boost the soda business.
"It has helped Coke’s customers from a volume standpoint but not necessarily from a revenue and profit standpoint," he said. "These machines are going to have to drive new traffic if they are really going to take off."
Initial test venues for the Spire, however, have proven popular — with the 1,000 flavors being sought out by many.
"These are potentially of very real value to restaurants because of the vast range of choices they can offer consumers, making them a sort of beverage destination," said John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest, "And that, in turn, may help the beverage companies."
Coke has the lion's share of the soda fountain market with 70 percent, a figure buttressed by its most important account, McDonald's.
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