Like so many other startups in the space, PizzaForno doesn’t like to call its product a “vending machine.” That term carries with it a lot of baggage, conjuring up coils of stale snacks. Instead, the company makes “Automated Pizza Ovens.” But regardless of what you call it, PizzaForno is bringing its 24-hour, unattended pizza kiosk to the U.S. next month.
Based near Toronto, Canada, PizzaForno has 25 such machines in operation already in Ontario. They work pretty much as you’d expect. Customers walk up to the machine, place an order through the touchscreen (a mobile app is forthcoming) and roughly twelve dollars and two minutes later, a 12 inch piping hot pizza is dispensed.
While PizzaForno, the company, is based in Canada, it’s using technology from an undisclosed company in France. Each machine holds 70 pre-made pizzas (typically eight different varieties), and features a convection technology that blast hot air to cook the pizza.
PizzaForno’s go-to market is a little different from other players in the automated pizza space. Piestro is building its own brand and licensed pizza vending robots, and API Tech makes machines that are then branded by a third party. PizzaForno wants to build its own food brand and is using a licensing model to expand its presence.
Licensees will pay between $115,000 – $125,000 for the machine, materials and territorial rights. They will then negotiate with landlords for location space, and handle maintenance, operational and logistical matters. The first machine U.S. will be placed in Jackson, Michigan in February.
As I wrote last year, smart vending machines are going through a re-invention, one partly spurred on by the global pandemic that has consumers wanting contactless food retail experiences. Vending machines keep ingredients safe from outside germs, don’t require humans to serve up food, and can operate around the clock.
But it’s also a reinvention because the food these machines make is just better than it used to be. It’s no longer packaged snacks. Instead, it is hot, fresh food created by what is essentially a small restaurant-in-a-box. Ramen, salad, bowl foods — vending machines are making it all these days.
Pizza in particular is turning into a hot sub-category for automated vending services. In addition to Piestro and API Tech, Basil Street has its “Automated Pizza Kitchen” and Bake Xpress offers personal pizzas among its baked goods.
The question for PizzaForno is whether its licensee approach will work. Pizza vending machines are still a relatively new concept. People immediately know what they’d get from a Domino’s Pizza vending machine, regardless of who made the actual machine. And while it isn’t exactly hard to figure out what PizzaForno makes, consumers won’t be familiar with the brand or the product. Hungry folks may be more hesitant to try it — even though it comes out of an “automated pizza oven.”
UPDATE: Though PizzaForno reps used the term “franchise” during my call with them, the company followed up to say the correct term was “license.” Also, the location of the first Michigan machine changed after the publication of this article. It has been updated to reflect these changes.