Could extreme beverage-customization machines—and their nearly endless product variety—be the key to turning soft drink sales around?
When it comes to the state of beverage sales in the restaurant industry, it’s a case of good news and bad news. On the positive side, non-carbonated beverage and water sales are trending up, growing by 1.7 percent in 2014, according to research from the non-alcoholic beverage analysts at Beverage Digest. However, the story reads much differently when it comes to the state of carbonated soft drink sales.
Between 2011 and 2014 alone, carbonated soft drink sales dropped 3.6 percent, according to global market research firm Mintel, with 2014 marking the 10th consecutive year that soft drink sales have dipped.
And though there is no be-all-end-all reason that consumers are turning against sodas when dining out, many industry experts agree that this downward trend has less to do with a desire to save money than it does with the fact that increasingly health-conscious customers see carbonated soft drinks as an unhealthy option. A Top Ten Trends report from the food research group IFT shows that consumers are increasingly apprehensive about zero-calorie sweeteners, sugar, and high fructose corn syrup—which are the main ingredients in many soft drink options.
Unsurprisingly, beverage giants Coke and Pepsi have suffered most from consumers’ decision to distance themselves from carbonated beverages, with a report from Beverage Digest showing that Coke and Pepsi saw a drop in sales of 1.1 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively, from 2013 to 2014. Perhaps that’s why both brands have turned an increasing amount of attention over the last handful of years to their respective touchscreen beverage-customization machines, known as the Coke Freestyle and Pepsi Spire.
Coke’s Freestyle system launched in 2009 and offers more than 100 flavor options, while Pepsi’s Spire came to market in early 2014, giving customers the option to customize their drink in more than 1,000 ways, with the ability to add up to three flavor shots (such as cherry, vanilla, or cherry) to their Pepsi product of choice.
The Freestyle machine is used by a number of prominent quick-service brands, from chains like Firehouse Subs to Schlotzsky’s, while Pepsi Spire has partnered with concepts like Buffalo Wild Wings and Arby’s, among others.
“We’re in the middle of an exciting evolution of personalization, and the ‘maker movement’ has influenced the way people relate to brands,” writes Gina Anderson, spokesperson for PepsiCo, in an email to RestaurantBev. “What better way to empower consumers to make their own personalized drinks than by giving them the chance to create more than 1,000 beverage combinations?”
It’s this customization factor within the Freestyle and Spire machines that analyists point to as the driving factor for consumers’ interest in the flavors and innovation they provide.