We've come a long way from the soda jerk at the corner candy store. As reported in Information Week last week, Coca-cola will provide some fast-food restaurants with a soda dispenser with 100 varieties of soda, juice, tea, and flavored waters.
I didn't even realize Coke made that many flavors. As a customer, the endless choices allow me to get whatever I want, no holds barred. But what's more important is that Coke will be collecting data on every pour, to gain intelligence on what brands and flavors are most popular.
The initial 60 "Freestyle" machines will be placed in McDonald's, Burger King and Willy's Mexican Grill in Atlanta, Salt Lake City, and Orange County, Calif., by the end of the summer. According to Information Week:
Freestyle will let Coke more easily test new drink flavors and new beverage concepts, such as adding various vitamin combinations to flavored waters and juices. The dispensers each contain 30 cartridges of flavorings that mix up 100 different drink combinations. The cartridges are tagged with radio frequency ID chips, and each dispenser contains an RFID reader. The dispensers collect data on what customers are drinking and how much, and transmit that information each night over a private Verizon wireless network to Coke's SAP data warehouse system in Atlanta. The company will use the data to develop reports that assess how new drinks are doing in the market, identify differences in regional tastes, and help fast-food outlets decide which drinks to serve.
Instead of focus groups and customer surveys, Coke will use technology (RFID, wireless connections) to gain actual consumption information. I'm sure other CPG companies will take notice as they look to gain customer insight from anonymous customers.