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Freestyle Innovation at Coca-Cola

· TechInnovation

Coca-Cola is best known for its iconic contour fluted lines bottle. Borne out of a necessity to protect the brand, the bottle was designed in 1915 with the aim of differentiating Coca-Cola from competing brands that were trying to imitate Coke by offering bottles with slight variations.


Fast forward more than 100 years later and the company has incorporated this spirit of innovation in its DNA and is constantly finding new ways to offer more choices to consumers. “We have more than 3,500 products and if you think about that number, it will take you over 9 years to try a different product every day,” says Gregg Carpenter, global director of engineering at The Coca-Cola Company.


The company has consistently been ranked top in the sparkling, juice and ready to drink product segments and is present in every category outside of alcohol. With some 700,000 employees worldwide, the brand has a presence in every country in the world except North Korea.


At the recent TechInnovation, Carpenter cited Coca-Cola Freestyle as an example of how the multinational company seeds ideas and provides an environment conducive for the development of new ideas. Coca-Cola Freestyle is a touch screen soda fountain that features more than 160 different Coca-Cola drink products and custom flavours that allows users to select from mixtures of flavours.


“The bottles and cans is how we connect with most of our customers. Going back to our roots, the soda fountain has been a big part of our business. It contains five parts water and one part soda,” says Carpenter.


According to him, the idea of creating new opportunities in the soda fountain business started when a new vice president of engineering started questioning whether it was necessary for the formula to be as it was. And if things were done differently, would it result in new possibilities in this business segment?


“It wasn’t necessarily a new question but the time was right for us to explore. The thing with ideas is that you need to treat every idea as if it’s going to be the next big idea,” he observes.


The idea was brought forward to the company’s board and they knew that the idea would challenges many of its established capabilities within the company. However, the board decided that Carpenter and his team could test the idea by operating like a start-up and hence gave them a room and the necessary resources to start developing the idea.


“The good news for us is that we weren’t encumbered by the past. In a lot of establishments, you had to fight the past in order to create the future. We were freed from all of that and it was very liberating for all of us,” he says. “They gave us a safe environment to explore and develop and understand how to take the technology and create business value.”


For Carpenter and his team, developing Coca-Cola Freestyle was not just about developing technology. He states that having a great idea and technology does not necessarily translate into business value.


To create business value, the team tapped on cross-functional knowledge where colleagues from other departments like sales and marketing were roped in to provide as much information on customer preferences. The mantra that guided the team throughout the process revolved around providing customers with choice and variety.


Carpenter recounts: “We felt very strongly that at Coca-Cola, we knew our business and customers better than anybody. Decisions that had to be made include how do you trade off cost versus reliability versus performance…Information is never complete but we made these decisions and we moved forward and the team made it happen.”


The resulting product is Coca-Cola Freestyle that dispenses different drinks by leveraging small cartridges of micro-dosed ingredients instead of the large boxes of syrup found in conventional machines. This allows Freestyle to dispense some 150 flavours more than the average self-serve drink machine.

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