When it launched its design-your-own-flavor soda dispensers, Coca-Cola handed over the keys to its customers, letting them add a shot of flavor — say raspberry or vanilla or lemon — to any drink. In return, the touchscreen machines started sending Coca-Cola some very useful data on what its customers really want.
Now, eight years after introducing the machines, which have made their way into movie theaters and fast food outlets around the country, Coca-Cola is unveiling its first product created using all that data. People have spent years dialling their own flavor combinations into the machine, and the lesson was simple: The people demand Sprite Cherry.
To the casual soda drinker, Sprite Cherry may seem kind of predictable — it's not a huge leap from Cherry Coke — and even a little disappointing considering the other options people could add to drinks, like strawberry, grape, peach, raspberry, orange, and vanilla. Serious Eats described Sprite Cherry as "kind of meh."
But the people have spoken.
"There's proven data that people actually love it," said Bobby Oliver, director of Sprite & Citrus Brands for Coca-Cola North America. "It's not just a survey where people say yes or no."
Asked if cherry's victory was a letdown, Oliver said, "We're not disappointed at all." Combining "lemon lime, with a twist of cherry flavor" allows the brand to "stay true to what Sprite is about," he said.
Sprite has been an outlier in a shrinking soda business, with dollar sales up about 3.4% in 2016, according to Coca-Cola, citing Nielsen data. Meanwhile, the company's overall revenues fell by 5% last year.
Introducing new products — especially beverages that aren't soda — is part of Coca-Cola's strategy, "We brought to market more than 500 new products, nearly 400 of which were tea, juices, coffees, waters or other still beverages," CEO Muhtar Kent said to investors last week.
Sprite Cherry and Sprite Cherry Zero are the first Freestyle products to make it to Coca-Cola's permanent lineup (there are other limited-time products like Sprite Cranberry), and are also the first new Sprite flavor since Sprite Zero was launched more than a decade ago. Coca-Cola announced Sprite Cherry in late 2016. Whether Sprite Cherry fans will find the bottled version as satisfying as the fountain soda remains to be seen.