When Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO ) decided to create Coke Freestyle, it aimed to produce the ultimate cola machine. The company envisioned a future where consumers could use one fountain to obtain more than one hundred different flavors. That vision became a reality in 2009 when Coca-Cola began to ship the first Freestyle machines.
"It (the new fountain) broadens the exposure for our brands and gives us a chance to drive significant growth to our customers," Chandra Stephens-Albright, group director for marketing and business development at Coca-Cola, told Reuters in September 2009.
"The first time we saw Coca-Cola Freestyle, we knew it would revolutionize the beverage industry and we welcomed a test with our partners at Coca-Cola," Robin Sorensen, co-founder of Firehouse Subs, said in a company release . "Customers rave about Coca-Cola Freestyle. It offers an interactive experience that when combined with our subs, is unmatched, and has led to a substantial increase in beverage sales. We're pumped to be the first national chain on the planet to bring the fountain of the future to all of our loyal customers."
Coke Freestyle has earned support from a number of prominent clients, including select AMC movie theaters, Five Guys and Burger King. McDonald's (NYSE: MCD ) is currently testing the new format but has not committed to putting a Coke Freestyle machine in every restaurant.
With so much support (and so many Facebook (NASDAQ: FB ) Likes), one might assume that Coke Freestyle is a unilateral hit. Take a closer look, however, and you will find a rising number of complaints surrounding the concept.
"…These dumb ol' Freestyle machines are so busy offering you over 100 soda flavor combinations that they all end up tasting wrong," CultureMap Austin's Michael Graupmann wrote in his blog .
When The Examiner published a story on Coke Freestyle, readers turned to the comments section to share their complaints.
"Neat idea, but you can't do multiple drinks at once like you can with current machines," Jim wrote. "When the waiter gets sodas for a table, getting four drinks is fast. This will be a lot slower, especially if he has to hunt for the drink.
'The major problem with the new touch screen coke fountains, while attractive, they produce bad tasting products," Anna wrote. "The coke tastes off (strange) and flat -- even when the system is flushed out with water. The new fountains are slow and the touch screen is frustratingly unresponsive at times."
Another Examiner reader, Kelly, agreed. She said that she initially thought the "horrible" taste was caused by her own error in selecting the wrong drink. That was not the case. "Gave it a second try and tastes even worse the second time around," she wrote. "I guess the good news is that this machine will help me kick my soda habit."
User complaints are not limited to the comments section of the aforementioned article. They can also be found in the comments section of the Coke Freestyle review on Esquire as well.
"I have to echo everyone's complaints and say these machines suck," Ryan Geery wrote. "I want a separate nozzle for the coke so it doesn't have to share w/ the other 105 flavors."
"I now avoid places installing these machines," Dawson List added. "The last coke I got from one I had to pour out because it was contaminated with other flavors."
"I think this invention its cool and looks futuristic but the soda sucks [because] you still have left over flavors in the line so [it's] like getting all flavors at once," Makayla Lackey wrote.
While Twitter is mostly filled with hype for the new machines (particularly the technology behind Coke Freestyle), there have been a few complaints.
"I don't want to start a twitter war, but the products in Coke freestyle machines always taste a LITTLE watered down," @thailure tweeted last year.
"@thailure I've never liked the free style machines," @iSmisty replied. "The cherry coke tastes like cough syrup."
Coke Freestyle is still in beta. However, there has been no evidence to suggest that the company has improved its machines since they were introduced in 2009.
The complaints are so prevalent and have been so consistent that you can even find them on message boards that have nothing to do with Coca-Cola.
"Some on the RCCL threads about these machines have also complained that the flavors can cross-contaminate," cyclenut wrote. "A simple Diet Coke can taste a little orange if the person in front of you just used orange."
"The most common problem I run into, at least from a flavor perspective, is that most everything picks up a cherry flavor if many people have used cherry between thorough cleanings," mousebrat wrote. "Running water before getting a drink does not help."
"I dislike them too," design_mom added. "I like my Coke plain and it always seems to taste funny from the freestyle machines (hint of lime, hint of orange, etc.). I've tried running the machine for a bit without my cup underneath -- but that's wasteful, and only marginally helps."
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