Gene Farrell of Coca-Cola North America shows the newest in beverage dispensing technology during a press briefing at the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago.

CHICAGO - It used to be that a soda drinker would have, at the most, eight to 16 choices of beverages to choose from at those self-serve dispensers in fast food restaurants or convenience stores. If the thirsty person wanted a tinge of cherry or vanilla in the drink, he or she would have to hope that add-on was in one of the eight to 16 choices.

Well, those days of hoping the dispenser will have just the right blend could be a thing of the past.

At the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show in Chicago, Coca-Cola North America showed Coca-Cola Freestyle™, a proprietary fountain dispenser entering market testing this summer.

“The fountain’s brand name captures its ability to deliver unprecedented beverage variety to suit any consumer taste,” said Chandra Stephens-Albright, group director of marketing and business development for the brand.

“It celebrates the idea that consumers can truly have their say at the fountain, with choices completely tailored for them.

The new concept for Coca-Cola has been in development for four years, the company said. As explained during a press briefing at the NRA show, a customer puts a cup under a single valve and fills it with as much ice as wanted. The customer then goes to a touch-screen and picks the drink desired as well as any of a number of flavorings.

In addition to soft drinks, the options include waters, juices, teas, and sparkling beverages. Another push of a screen prompt begins the dispensing of the drink in the amount the user wants.

Instead of storing already blended drinks based on the number of nozzles, the Freestyle uses cartridges of concentrated liquids. By pushing the dispense button, the customer starts the blending process including the water, sweetener, and flavorings, all coming from separate cartridges.

The separate cartridges are designed to allow more freshness of the finished product, the company said. The configuration allows the unit to fit in the space of a typical eight-valve machine. At the end of each day, the unit’s built-in computer transmits to the corporate office in Atlanta how much of each cartridge was used to help expedite replacement shipments.

Plans call for the testing in some restaurants in Orange County, Calif., and Atlanta this summer before a wider introduction in 2010.

Publication date: 07/06/2009