The Keurig Kold - one of the more expensive ways to offer consumers their own customisation experience

The Keurig Kold - one of the more expensive ways to offer consumers their own customisation experience

It wasn't supposed to end like this – a refund of the full purchase price and a chance to forget the whole thing. Keurig Kold was viewed as a potential game-changer by The Coca-Cola Co; a "consumer engagement platform with unlimited potential". For Keurig Green Mountain, Keurig Kold was the entry ramp to a cold, non-alcoholic beverage category said to be five times larger than the hot drinks market. But, it didn't work out that way for either company and the experience offers a chance to reflect on beverage innovation itself.

The chilly reviews for Keurig Kold last year turned out to be prescient. Consumers did not seem to care that Keurig's engineers spent five years perfecting the concept, or that the unit benefited from over 50 technology patents. Instead, US consumers grumbled about Kold's $369.99 debut price, its countertop-hogging size, the painfully long time it took to cool drinks, and the bothersome humming noise it emitted whenever it was plugged in. These annoyances were a lot to put up with for the ability to make a single 8oz soft drink "on demand" from disposable pods priced as high as $1.25 each (for a per ounce price two to three times that of packaged soft drinks).

Granted, Keurig Kold did offer breakthrough technological innovation. Coca-Cola and Keurig figured out a way, for example, to carbonate drinks without the use of a carbon dioxide canister (as is required for a SodaStream machine). Special 'Karbonator' beads in each disposable pod held beverage-grade carbon dioxide and produced carbonation when they came into contact with water. And yet, while the beads eliminated the hassle of purchasing and replacing a carbon dioxide canister, the high cost of the Keurig unit (triple the price of a Keurig 2.0 coffee machine) and its expensive disposable pods ensured that few consumers were ever going to progress far enough down the ownership curve to even notice the long-term benefit of not having to replace the canisters.

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The failure of Keurig Kold begs the question: What were Coca-Cola and Keurig trying to accomplish in the first place? The original Keurig for hot coffee solved a problem that needed solving – the ability to brew a single cup of coffee, quickly. It's hard to think of a single problem that Keurig Kold solved. The unit was geared almost exclusively towards flavoured soda production at a time when the market (represented by SodaStream) had shifted from flavoured drinks to carbonated water production. What's more, Keurig Kold missed out on one opportunity it could have owned – the ability to create a customised soft drink at home that you couldn't buy in a store.

Coca-Cola's own Freestyle vending machine alludes to a potential opportunity lost with Keurig Kold. Coca-Cola maintains that the typical soft drink vending machine offers between six and eight drink choices. Freestyle, with its easy-to-use touchscreen, can dispense over 100 individual soft drink brands – more choice than many retail outlets provide. Freestyle does this by using small cartridges of micro-dosed ingredients to create a multitude of choices. The process sounds similar to how an inkjet printer can produce a rainbow of colours with just a handful of colored ink cartridges.

Customisation is a compelling benefit for consumers, as shown by a 2014 consumer survey by Canadean. By an over four-to-one margin, consumers globally say that they have a more favourable perception of a food or drink product that is customised or personalised. This does not necessarily mean, though, that a company has to spend a fortune to deliver customisation benefits.

NukaCha Shake 'n Go Smoothie creates a customisable beverage experience without the need for expensive gadgetry. New in the US, this powdered concentrate smoothie comes in a single-serving bottle to which the consumer adds water and shakes the contents for a freshly-prepared smoothie beverage. Water is required to reconstitute the blueberry, Greek yoghurt or mango-flavoured product, but water does not have to be the only added ingredient. Consumers can add their own almond milk, rice milk, fruit juice and more to customise the drink. The company behind NukaCha, RiceBran Technologies, maintains that smoothie drinkers want products that offer personalisation, transparency, convenience, and healthy ingredients.

In India, meanwhile, Tata Tea Fusion gives consumers the "freedom of choice" to "blend your tea the way you want it" with some help from a dual-chambered stand-up pouch. One chamber holds Assam tea while the other houses a "green tea enhancer" to mix with the Assam tea and experience the goodness of green tea. The consumer can decide just how much or how little green tea enhancer they want to add.

This ability to customise to taste is also a feature of No More Tea Bags Instant Tea. As the name suggests, this UK innovation does away with tea bags and replaces them with a 20cl aerosol can of liquid tea concentrate, which means no soggy tea bag left over while putting the perfect cup of tea within reach. One 'shot' of tea – enough to cover the bottom of the cup – is enough for a typical cup of tea and consumers can flavour up from there.

Who says that flavour pods must be wedded to a costly kitchen gadget? Argentina's Smart Drink uses the pod concept for cocktail drinks, but avoids the gadget route. The company's SmartDrink capsule drinks comprise plastic capsules with concentrated liquid mixers, such as grapefruit and cola, along with liquor. The consumer removes the cap from the flavour capsule, twists a shrink-wrapped plastic cup onto the top of the capsule and adds water or ice for a bar-quality drink. While SmartDrink only requires the addition of water to use, there is no reason why consumers cannot tweak the cocktail with their own flavour boosters.

Under-the-cap packaging is yet another way to customise flavour without taking the expensive gadget route. Under-the-cap technology is currently used to deliver nutrients to functional beverages at the point-of-use. But, there is no reason that this technology cannot also be used to customise flavours at the point-of-use. For example, Choice H2O's four chamber dispenser cap allows consumers to add up to four ingredients (flavours, vitamins, etc.) to a drink at one time, opening up new customisation possibilities.

Collectively, these innovations all point to ways to add convenience and customisation benefits without expensive bets on pricey gadgets that may create more problems than they solve.

There is hope for beverage innovation beyond Keurig Kold after all.