Here at BevReview, we've previously explored Pepsi's responses to the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, including the Pepsi Fusion and Pepsi Smart Fountain. One of the newest entries in this ongoing development cycle is the Pepsi Touch Tower, currently being tested around Denver, CO.
The company applied for a trademark on the "Pepsi Touch Tower" name not that long ago… March 19, 2013 (#85880086). Unlike their filings for trademarks on Pepsi Fusion and Pepsi Smart Fountain, which featured two types of classes (both hardware and dispensing unit), the filing for the Touch Tower is only for the "refrigerated beverage dispensing units." This would seem to indicate that the Touch Tower is primarily a fountain head unit, not a complete flavor system like the Coca-Cola Freestyle.
Per an Associated Press story, "the "Touch Tower" machines let people add up to four flavor shots – lemon, cherry, strawberry or vanilla – to eight varieties of drinks." It's also noted that "the company has other tests planned" and that this device in Denver is "the first in a series of new fountain equipment the company is considering."
Two BevReview readers visited the test locations for us and captured photos and video. Special thanks to Kevin Shafer and Todd Liebenow (check out his Forgotten Films movie blog!).
Video: Pepsi Touch Tower at Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill (near Denver, CO)
(Video by Kevin Shafer. Used by Permission.)
Unlike the large footprint of the Coke Freestyle, the Touch Tower is a sleeker, tablet-like machine that sits on top of a counter. Pepsi notes that it's "intended more for outlets that don't want equipment that takes up a lot of space."
Using the on-screen interface, you select your Pepsi flavors and hold the virtual buttons on the screen to fill your cup. Unlike the Freestyle, ice is not dispensed from the Touch Tower. You fill your cup from a neighboring dedicated ice machine.
On the models featured in the Denver test, there are 8 flavors available (plus sparkling water). The flavor lineup includes:
- Diet Pepsi
- Sierra Mist
- Mountain Dew
- Mug Root Beer
- Dr Pepper
- Diet Dr Pepper
- Sobe Elixir Lean
With these products, 4 "flavor shot" options are available (but not offered on every product):
Curiously, the screen notes that "every shot adds 2 calories and 0.3 grams of sugar." Also, not all the shot flavors are available for every product. For example, Mug Root Beer only offers a Vanilla alternative, Sobe Lean offers Cherry, Strawberry, and Lemon, while Pepsi offers all 4 shot options.
In previous tests with the Pepsi Fusion machine back in 2010, 8 flavor choices were available: Lemon, Lime, Grape, Orange, Cherry, Strawberry, Raspberry, and Wild Berry.
A major interface difference between the Touch Tower and the Coke Freestyle is the act of actually pouring your drink into a cup. On the established Coke machines, you select your drink option from the touch screen, then press a separate button to actually add the drink to your cup.
Video: Flavored Pepsi dispensed into cup via Pepsi Touch Tower
(Video by Todd Liebenow. Used by Permission.)
On the Touch Tower, the screen emulates the push button itself, meaning you hold down on the virtual bottom to pour your drink. Let go of the virtual button, and the drink stops pouring.
Todd noted that he really appreciated that this Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill location had 2 Pepsi Touch Towers in place. He expressed his frustration at the long lines formed in front of Coca-Cola Freestyle machines, so it was nice to be able to get his drink and refills quickly with the smaller devices.
Of note on the Touch Tower machines is the inclusion of Dr Pepper. This brand is owned by Dr Pepper Snapple Group, though often both Pepsi and Coke will license its use to be included on their branded fountains (Coke uses Pibb Xtra when Dr Pepper is not an option; Pepsi does not have their own Pepper clone). This makes Dr Pepper and Diet Dr Pepper the only beverages to be available on both the Coca-Cola Freestyle and the Pepsi Touch Tower.
Looking more closely at the official PepsiCo photo of the Touch Tower, we note that there are actually 2 versions shown. The unit used in the Denver test appears to the be one featured in the background, with a slimmer profile and smaller head unit. You can see how this small size would be an advantage in restaurants that have limited space for large fountain machinery.
One could view the functionality of the Pepsi Touch Tower almost as "Freestyle-Lite", with fewer flavors overall. That said, the interface does make it slightly easier to mix-and-match different blends of drinks, while the smaller size opens the door for its use to be included in space-adverse situations. At the time of this story, we don't know how the flavors and syrups are interacting with the Touch Tower device, although from the looks of some of our photos, our suspicions are a standard bag-in-box syrup source. We hope to have more information on this soon.
Still, with Coke having their Freestyle machines in roughly 7000 locations in the United States, Pepsi has some catching up to do!