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Old Favorites in New Dispensers

High tech beverage vending machines and dispensers are giving consumers more choice and convenience.

Students lined up by the dozens to test Coca-Cola's new Freestyle beverage dispenser when it was introduced recently at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Well, okay, young people like new gizmos.

But the same sort of excitement occured in more adult spaces where Freestyle was rolled out, such as Visa's Northern California campus, where the unit continued to be a star attraction well after its debut.

And that is a promising development for beverage marketers who are looking to put more…er, fizz into sales.

With the energy drink and smart water crazes cresting, sugared sodas under suspicion (and, in K-12, under actual bans) and bottled water coming under fire for cluttering up the environment, beverages can use some good news. Lately, it's been provided by innovations in how drinks are delivered to customers, innovations that provide convenience, choice and…well, flair.

For example, Freestyle has a touchscreen that customers use to select from more than 125 drink products and custom flavors, mixing and matching them to their hearts content.

Coke also jazzed up the traditional vending machine with Interactive Vender, which has a 46-inch multimedia touchscreen that lets customers “engage” with products through motion graphics, high-definition video and click-through promotions.

Not to be outdone, PepsiCo's Social Vending unit takes interactivity to the next level by allowing customers to use its touchscreen to “gift” a drink to a friend. It even lets the gifter add a personalized text message, or a video, recorded right at the machine.

Another heavyweight jazzing up the beverage dispensing category is Starbucks Corp. with its Seattle's Best branded coffee vending machines, which seek to buck vending machine coffee's disreputable rep, provide consumers with a choice of premium brews made with freshly ground to order beans. It can even vend specialty drinks like regular and flavored café au laits, mochas and cocoa.

The BevMax from Crane Media offers customer pleasing full disclosure — all the products are clearly visible through the large illuminated glass front — and ‘green’ cred, since the light comes from long-life, low-energy LED bulbs. Plus, the jostle-free delivery cup brings purchases to the customer gently — no violent drops that can make opening carbonated containers an adventure in mess avoidance.

What's next? Maybe a glimpse of the future can be seen in Japan, where vendor East Water Business Co. has rolled out beverage vending machines that not only tell you that you can use a drink, but what kind.

The units incorporate facial recognition sensors that size up customers and use data demographic market research to come up with a beverage recommendation. You are reportedly free to disagree, but it's still pretty cool…

TAGS: Management
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