The annual National Restaurant Association Show (NRA) has always been looked at as the hub of industry innovation. It brings together professionals from all sectors, showcasing the latest trends, technologies, and products. The show’s aisles are packed annually with innovative food & beverage menu ideas and cutting-edge kitchen equipment. It encourages individuals to push boundaries and create unique experiences for their dining customers.
With that goal, The Coca-Cola Company helped foodservice operators at the recent NRA ’23 delight guests and streamline their operations through innovative solutions as inflation, labor and supply chain constraints continue to add pressure to consumers and operators.
“We are thrilled to demonstrate Coca-Cola’s commitment to innovative beverage solutions for foodservice operators at the show this year. Our booth stands out from anything we have previously done, with a restaurant like design that leads visitors through three key areas: Loved Brands. Done Sustainably. Delivered Digitally,” said Amy Chaffin, Group Director, On Premise Channel Strategy. “From unveiling Coca-Cola Flex powered by Freestyle to showcasing sustainable packaging solutions and custom digital solutions, we are committed to delivering more options for more people, during more occasions throughout the day.”
Coca-Cola Flex powered by Freestyle is a new beverage dispenser that offers an enhanced guest experience while reducing operational complexities. With more than 40 beverage choices available in the same footprint as standard 6 valve fountain dispensers, Coca-Cola Flex combines the benefits of traditional fountain dispensers with the innovation and variety offered by Coca-Cola Freestyle.
Coca-Cola conducted two rounds of consumer testing and then worked with several customers and bottling partners to understand which features and benefits would optimize the fountain occasion. With its sleek design, user-friendly interface, cutting edge technology and over 40 beverage choices, Coca-Cola Flex creates an exciting beverage pouring experience for foodservice guests while providing a simple transition and maintenance for operators.
Among the key features with the new Flex unit is the ability to add carefully crafted beverage recipes to a restaurant or foodservice operator’s beverage menu. Coca-Cola’s PurePour Technology features micro dosing pumps to dispense the proper ingredients at the point of pour. The result is quality, fresh beverages from every pour.
The new design is made for the smaller operator looking to create signature beverages. The new dispenser boasts a 15” HD touchscreen display for smoother navigation and an engaging consumer experience. The unit also offers Improved Crew Operations. Using and maintaining the Flex is easier than ever with a new user-friendly interface, easier access to inventory alerts, quicker diagnostics and improved ergonomics. The small, eco-friendly SmartPAK cartridges are easy to change and take up less space than the traditional bag in box syrup.
“The new Flex solution offers expanded beverage variety that dining guests love,” added Chaffin. The Flex offers more than beverages across six categories and nine beloved Coca Cola brands, including more than 23 low and no calorie options and over 25 caffeine-free choices.
The annual industry event in Chicago also saw the launch of an expanded portfolio of coffee solutions from Coca-Cola. That included Costa Coffee’s new propriety coffee dispenser. Ideal for restaurants, the Schaerrer Soul 10 features a graphical user interface, which allows staff to launch the preparation of common orders almost instantaneously. It also offers a variety of options that multiply consumer choices, including patented Best Foam technology, flavor point syrup station fitted under the counter, simultaneous dispensing of hot water and coffee for ease and efficiency, and hot and cold brewing ability. “There’s even Twin milk storage containers that allow the machine to dispense multiple milk options, including dairy free and plant-based options without contamination,” added Costa’s Tim Warner.
The Windy City booth also highlighted Coca-Cola’s expanded Simply Mixology juice portfolio. The winner of the 2023 FABI Awards featured a line of refreshing, fruit forward, alcohol free juice beverages inspired by your favorite cocktails. The three Simply Mixology varieties include Strawberry Guava Mojito, Lime Margarita and Peach Sour. “They are crafted to be enjoyed with or without alcohol for the perfect cocktail or mocktail,” Chaffin noted.
Among the most interesting highlights of Coca Cola’s NRA offering was a truly visionary initiative aimed at the challenges facing the planet and society relative to solving the complex issue of plastic waste. Alex Nicolaou, who serves as the Company’s Senior Manager, Sustainability for the North America Operating Unit was on hand to help customers increase sustainability in a variety of ways. “We are very excited about our newly designed recycling unit that can actually help the consumer who is through with their beverage read which dispensing bin to use by reading a sensor in the cup,” Nicolaou said.
A goal of providing a “Recycling Value Assessment” and provide suggestions for improving the amount of material that gets to a recycling facility. “We also support customers by connecting them with partners that offer reusable cup programs. Our goal is to join with like-minded partners and customers to activate around recycling that help build habits for life, which ultimately helps the company reach its goal of creating a better shared future for all,” Nicolaou concluded.
Coca-Cola’s Josh Gurley was also on hand to collaborate with foodservice operators on strategies to maximize guest checks through innovative bundling and marketing. The Cross-Functional Leader and Growth Strategist offered guidance on how the brand’s Digital Value Bundle can engage guests and improve operations. “We have seen how the right loyalty programs can help solve various business challenges. These include recruiting new customers, increasing purchase value, winning back lapsed consumers, increasing the number of visits and driving awareness of new products and services,” Gurley said.
The marketing exec also shared the highlights of Coca-Cola’s recently conducted proprietary research. “We realize the importance of developing strategic digital partnerships with leaders in the space that can create value for customers,” Gurley added. These partnerships can range from technology companies to foodservice aggregators and are focused on both driving growth and reducing costs. Some of the partnerships highlighted in the booth include Doordash, UberEats and PopMenu.
For decades, Coca-Cola has been known for its versatile and premium beverage options. With that the nation’s restaurant and foodservice community knew that adding Coca-Cola to the menu can attract customers who are specifically looking for this well-known brand. The recent NRA event shows that Coca-Cola has taken its commitment to the industry to a new level with a portfolio of diverse initiatives from sustainability to the latest in bundling.