Though Coca-Cola has a long history of supplying soda to the foodservice industry and is preparing to roll out its Freestyle dispensing system in a few markets in August and September, the beverage giant introduced a new line of coffee products at the 2010 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago.

The Georgia Coffee line of fresh-brewed coffees and Far Coast line of specialty coffee and tea beverages joined the Freestyle as showcases at the company’s booth during the NRA Show.

“People know us very well for the strong brands like Coke, Sprite, and Diet Coke,” says Ben Middleton, senior trade communications manager for Coca-Cola North America.

“But we have brands in so many categories now that people may not have traditionally associated with Coca-Cola. … The impact all around is, ‘Wow, those guys have a lot of brands all at one place from a provider I’m already dealing with in soft drinks.’”

Coca-Cola, which also provides Juan Valdez coffee as a bag-in-box solution, expects to compete with foodservice coffee providers such as Douwe Egberts and Seattle’s Best Coffee in the quick-service arena.

Middleton says Coca-Cola’s size will help give the company a leg up in the coffee segment.

“What you’re really going to get is the power of the service and marketing support in the network of Coca-Cola,” he says. “That’s what you don’t get through a special roaster.”

The Georgia Coffee brand is in its first year of availability in the U.S. after enjoying billion-dollar success in Asia. Coca-Cola is offering four blends of ground Arabica beans: dark roast, light roast, decaffeinated, and sustainable organic.

The Far Coast specialty coffee solution, which Middleton calls a “barista in a box,” was tested in Canada and will be tested again this year in the Chicago and Baltimore markets. The machine includes a refrigeration section for milk products, and offers pods of coffee that employees can put in and create beverages with at the touch of a button.

“It’s a way to get specialty coffee and tea into your environment and have a crew that doesn’t have to be so expert at steaming milk and all that, because the machine does it all,” he says.

Middleton says getting a specialty coffee machine into the market was important for Coca-Cola, especially after the NRA listed specialty coffee as a top-five trend in its 2010 Industry Forecast. The company wanted to be able to provide a range of coffee products to the foodservice industry.

“What we’re saying is Coca-Cola can help you with building your coffee business, no matter where you are on the spectrum,” he says. “Some people have different operational needs, so we didn’t want to bring them just one type of coffee.”

While Coca-Cola’s new coffee solutions drew curious onlookers at the company’s NRA Show booth, the Freestyle, which was announced last year and has been in test markets, garnered the most attention.

The machine, which includes an interactive interface from which customers can choose up to 106 different brands of beverage, is about to roll out to specific geographies at the end of the summer, Middleton says.

A new crew version of the Freestyle, which is intended mostly for use in restaurant drive thrus, is also in testing.

Middleton says the website is the way the company is bringing the multitude of Coca-Cola beverage brands—which, on top of soda and coffee, includes smoothies, teas, juices, and other items—together under one umbrella for operators in the foodservice industry.

On the website, operators can view the many Coke products and specialty beverages, see Coca-Cola recipes, learn more about sustainability initiatives, and take advantage of marketing and business solutions.

“We think that it’s going to be a real advantage particularly to local customers that don’t have a large marketing team,” he says.

By Sam Oches

Menu Innovations, News, NRA Show 2010