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Firehouse pioneers ‘Freestyle’

Firehouse Subs in Farragut is pioneering a new Coca-Cola vending machine that offers more than 120 flavor choices.

“The Coca-Cola Freestyle fountain offers 120 different choices of drinks, which is pretty amazing, seeing as the prior machines would offer somewhere in the neighborhood of 12,” Firehouse franchisee James Blake said.

“This was a project started by Coca-Cola, and this is the largest investment that Coca-Cola has made in quite a while. It is really the future of beverage fountains.

“This is the future of their brand,” he added.

Firehouse is the first national restaurant chain to get Freestyle machines, which use concentrated flavor packages to mix drinks with carbonated water and high fructose corn syrup right at the machine.

Blake said the Freestyle had proved immensely popular with Farragut customers.

“Children, of course, come in and think it’s the neatest thing they’ve ever seen,” he said.

“We have people come just to look at the machine. It’s really revolutionary.”

From a business standpoint, Blake said, “We have seen a higher incidence of beverage purchases, meaning that where someone normally might have come in but not got something to drink, they are now because of the machine.

“We’ve also seen double-digit sales increases due to the machine,” he added.

The Freestyle operates in a manner comparable with old-time soda fountains, Blake said, where flavors were mixed for each individual drink.

But the machines aren’t old-fashioned.

Customers choose their drink and flavor on a touch screen. The “micro-dose flavors” are in the machine itself — no more boxes of Mello Yellow mix in a back room — in packages that look a lot like printer cartridges.

The machine communicates with Coca-Cola headquarters each night, reporting which drinks are most popular, what flavors need to be re-ordered and how many drinks customers order.

“It’s a different technology than what people are used to. It’s pretty neat,” Blake said.

In addition, the Freestyle offers flavors not offered by Coca-Cola anywhere else — not even in stores.

For example, “It has over 60 diet and calorie-free drinks,” Blake said.

Firehouse participated in a pilot test period for the Freestyle machines in test markets, including Atlanta.

“With those great results, we are the first national franchise in the world to partner with Coca-Cola and bring these machines to every one of our stores,” Blake said.


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