NEW YORK (AP) -- PepsiCo says it plans to start testing a new fountain machine at restaurants that lets people create a variety of flavor combinations, such as strawberry Mountain Dew.
The test follows Coca-Cola's introduction in 2009 of its Freestyle machine, which also lets customers touch a screen to pick from a wide array of flavor combinations. PepsiCo's test is set to begin at five restaurants in Denver next week.
Fountain sodas at restaurants, movie theaters and other outlets are an important part of the broader industry, representing about a quarter of overall sales volume, according to the industry tracker Beverage Digest. Coca-Cola Co., which is served in chains including McDonald's and Wendy's, has about 70 percent of the fountain business.
PepsiCo Inc. has about 30 percent and is served at chains including Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC, which it previously owned.
Gina Anderson, a spokeswoman for PepsiCo, said the "Touch Tower" machines let people add up to four flavor shots — lemon, cherry, strawberry or vanilla — to eight varieties of drinks. That means people could create drinks like strawberry Pepsi or lemon Mountain Dew.
She said the company has other tests planned and that the "Touch Tower" being introduced in Denver is the first in a series of new fountain equipment the company is considering. The test was first reported by Beverage Digest.
Coca-Cola's Freestyle machine also lets people pick from a wide variety of unique drinks, such as Caffeine-Free Diet Coke with lime or Minute Maid Light Orange Lemonade. Unlike the PepsiCo machine, however, Freestyle's options are all pre-set and don't let customers mix and match flavors.
The PepsiCo Touch Tower is also much smaller than Coca-Cola's Freestyle, which is roughly the size of a vending machine. PepsiCo says its machine, which has a tablet-like screen, is intended more for outlets that don't want equipment that takes up a lot of space. The company says it's also developing other machines that would suit variety of needs.
Pepsi's Denver test will take place at locations of Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill.
Coca-Cola has positioned its Freestyle machines as a way for restaurants and other outlets such as movie theaters to attract more customers and boost beverage sales. The company says Freestyle is in 7,000 outlets in the U.S., including Burger King and Wendy's. It's also being tested in Tokyo, London and Toronto.