Coca-Cola Freestyle is rolling out its latest technology innovation – contactless pouring from a smartphone – as the coronavirus pandemic continues to reshape the foodservice industry and consumer behavior overall.

“All Coca-Cola beverage dispensers are safe with recommended care and cleaning,” said Chris Hellmann, vice president and general manager, Coca-Cola Freestyle. “But given these uncertain times, people may prefer a touchless fountain experience. It has been exciting to see our team continuing 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 ensure they can continue to pour the beverages their guests desire on a platform they love.”

A new contact-less Coca-Cola Freestyle solution allows consumers to choose and pour a drink from their phone in just a few seconds, without having to sign up for a membership or download an app. The mobile Web experience, which was piloted earlier this summer at select Wendy’s, Five Guys and Firehouse Subs restaurants in Atlanta, works on any smart device.

“Holding your camera up to the display auto-scans a QR code on the display, which immediately connects to the cloud and brings the Coca-Cola Freestyle user interface to your phone,” explains Michael Connor, chief architect, Coca-Cola Freestyle. “You then select from the full menu of brands and flavors – and pour. The idea is to be safe, seamless and fun.”

The team knew from the start that the experience needed to be as seamless as possible. “We intentionally designed this so anyone with a smart device could pour a drink,” Connor said. “When you have a tray or a sandwich in one hand, you don’t want to deal with downloading an app. We took steps to make the solution super-easy, super-fast and super-reliable.”

Coca-Cola Freestyle app users can, however, opt to scan the QR code in the app for a similar experience, with the ability to pour pre-saved mixes.

The team developed the touch-free offering in just over a week as coronavirus lockdowns took effect, building off the Coca-Cola Freestyle Operating System (FOS) introduced in 2019. “This is a fully connected platform, which means we could use existing software system to create this experience without having to rewrite tons of code,” Connor explains.

The software will be pushed to more than 10,000 Coca-Cola Freestyle dispensers this summer. All Freestyle dispensers will be contactless-compatible by the end of the year.

Research shows that 60% of restaurant guests prefer to pour their own fountain drink versus having a crew member do so, according to a quantitative study from Civic Science. Customization is the primary driver for self-serve fountain fans, but more than 40% strongly agree that they feel safer when in control of their drinks.

Additionally, the Coca-Cola Freestyle team is patenting a touch-free, optical dispensing solution for legacy fountain dispensers. Sensor-enabled levers will detect the presence of a cup under the nozzle and pour the drink. When the cup is removed, pouring will automatically stop.

“We’re excited to get these in market, see how consumers engage with them and adjust accordingly,” said Hellmann. “The technology and resource investments we’ve made have enabled us to be nimble and innovate quickly, proactively and with scale.”

Coca-Cola also is giving customers access to a wide array of touch-free safety solutions, such as hand sanitizer, disposable wipes, disposable stylus pens and more.

“One of our top priorities is being a great partner for our customers,” Hellmann concluded. “Restaurants have been among the hardest-hit businesses during the pandemic due to dining room closures. Our goal is to provide a variety of solutions so our customers can offer consumers the Coca-Cola beverages they love, while driving critical revenue to their bottom line.”