In its earlier iterations, Coca-Cola’s Freestyle machine promised an essentially unlimited range of drink options that allowed consumers to customize their beverages any way they wanted. Press a couple of buttons—or, using a Bluetooth-connected model, fool around on an app—and you can create more than 100 drink combinations. Who wants a ginger lemon–flavored, caffeine-free Diet Coke? Not you? Well, that’s fine, because you’ve got so many other combinations at your literal fingertips, but someone else, who loves ginger lemon, watches calorie intake, and doesn’t want to be up all night, will be purchasing just that combination.

Today, a new compact Freestyle machine, called the New Compact Freestyle, is expanding the assortment and access to it in a different way. Small enough to sit on a countertop, such as in an office or lobby of a building, the machines promise vastly increased choice for consumers in a wide range of settings. But beyond the assortment appeal that this version offers, Coca-Cola is touting the New Compact Freestyle as a viable, effective way to help protect the environment. Office workers who like a refreshing carbonated beverage in the afternoon can stop by the machines to get refills in their own reusable, non-disposable cups, rather than purchasing another plastic bottle from the corner convenience store.

With this innovation, Coca-Cola thus believes it is progressing effectively in its efforts to reach a promise it has made, namely, zero waste and net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. Furthermore, the company is seeking to increase its effective uses of reusable containers, to 25 percent of all packaging. Such claims appear viable. In some preliminary analyses of the new dispensers, Coke’s internal results indicate that, per liter of cold beverages, the New Compact Freestyle achieves a lower carbon footprint than conventional packaging of colas in cans and bottles. These moves are especially notable, considering that Coca-Cola ranked as the world’s worst plastic polluter in 2021, according to the advocacy group Break Free from Plastic.

Because the New Compact Freestyle integrates advanced digital options, such that users can design beverages on smartphones before pouring their drinks, Coca-Cola also gains rich consumer data, including their chosen behaviors and preference, which are likely to inform new product development efforts (in the form of both new drink recipes and further iterations of Freestyle models). The New Compact Freestyle’s initial test launch is taking place in Europe, beginning in workplaces and “on-the-go outlets” in France and Belgium to start, followed by those in the United Kingdom.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the advantages of Coca-Cola’s New Compact Freestyle machine?
  2. Do you think Coca-Cola is making sincere efforts to use less plastic and pollute less? Do you think consumers will appreciate these efforts?
  3. Should more companies tout their sustainability goals, when launching new products? Why or why not?

Source: “Coca-Cola Announces European Trial of New Smart Drinks Dispenser,” Packaging Europe, May 12, 2022; Michael Hemsworth, “The Coca-Cola New Compact Freestyle Machine Is Arriving in Europe,” Trend Hunter, May 13, 2022; Carey Jones, “Soda: We Try All 127 Flavors from the Coke Freestyle Machine,” Serious Eats, August 9, 2018; Eric Mandel, “Soon You Can Cue Up a Coke with an App,” BizWomen, May 21, 2018; “Coca-Cola Announces Trial of New Compact Freestyle® Drinks Dispenser in Europe,” http://www.coca-cola.co.uk, May 11, 2022; “Pepsico Bows to Shareholder Pressure and Agrees to Establish Single-Use Bottle Reduction Goals,” Packaging Insights, March 17, 2022; “Unilever Debuts in Break Free from Plastic’s Top Three Plastic Polluters Despite Principal COP26 Role,” Packaging Insights, October 25, 2021