This hasn't been the best year for Keurig, arguably the world's leading purveyor of pod-based hot beverages. An attempt at coffee cup DRM enraged the company's customers, forcing them to walk back the change as a consequence of cratering sales; the company's big leap into cold beverages, the Kold drink dispenser, was ridiculed for its bulk and high cost upon its release at the end of September.
I had the chance to try the Kold for myself tonight at CES, and while I was pleasantly surprised by the taste of the machine's Coke-aping products, there's still a huge elephant in the room: this thing is expensive, and it stays expensive.
Using the machine is weirdly satisfying
If you've used one of Keurig's hot beverage machines in your office or home before, you won't have any trouble with the Kold. You have to remove a small foil seal on the bottom of a given pod before using it and there's a little groove included for alignment purposes, but the basics are the same: grab a pod from a package, pop it into a container, close the handle, and press a button. The drinks are carbonated by tiny synthetic beads within the pods that spring to life when they come into contact with the water you've loaded into the machine. It takes the Kold a little over a minute to brew a given drink, and it rumbles, hisses, and fizzes like any other Keurig machine. It's weirdly satisfying.
Keurig has partnered with Coca-Cola for a series of pods, so you can make several of the soda giant's products alongside Keurig's own recipes. I sipped a standard Coca-Cola the machine produced, and I couldn't taste much difference from good ol' canned Coke in terms of taste or carbonation. (I should add the caveat that I'm a die-hard Diet Coke consumer — I should've asked for a different pod.) At 8 ounces, the Kold's serving sizes are smaller than a standard can or bottle; it's a small difference, but a noticeable one, and it's one that adds up across dozens of pods.
Price is the elephant in the room
Serving size isn't the only thing that adds up from pod to pod, either: these things are expensive, pricey enough that it's easy to find canned or bottled soft drinks that are cheaper. The Kold unit itself retails for anywhere between $299 and $369, depending on the retailer; the accompanying pods cost between $3.99 and $4.99 per pack of four. When you remember that each pod is only yielding eight ounces of beverage per usage, it's clear the machine can't compare to standard soda on a cost-per-ounce basis, even if you neglect the initial capital investment. There's also no potential for reusability, either: do you have the technology to make synthetic carbonation beads in your home? (Well, maybe you do.)
I liked the drink the Kold made for me, and the company's committing to making the machine lighter, cheaper, and faster over time. I've owned Keurig machines before. But I still find it difficult to justify the Kold's existence when I compare it to purchasing and cracking open cans of soda, something I already do multiple times on a daily basis. Finding a way to differentiate the machine from its tried-and-true predecessor might be the key to a 2016 rebound for Keurig.