One of the big surprises from my food robot tour of San Francisco last year was just how delicious the bread from the Le Bread Xpress’ eponymous vending machine was. For $4 and a 90 second wait, you got a light and buttery baguette warmed to perfection.
So I’m excited to (eventually) venture back down to the Bay Area to try out the company’s brand new Bake Xpress machine, which doles out between 15 and 18 different items, including croissants, turkey and brie sandwiches and pizzas.
The original Le Bread Xpress machine launched roughly three years ago, and while there were only three locations in the U.S., there were more than 120 in Europe. Baguettes, understandably, are more popular in France than they are here.
While the bread was indeed delicious, the problem with the original Le Bread Xpress was proximity. The one I visited was in the Stonestown Galleria, which, if you’re not familiar with San Francisco, is way out of the way. Far outside the city core, it’s not really imaginable that someone would travel to use it, and even then, that warm loaf of bread would be cold by the time you got home.
Benoit Herve, CEO and Founder of Le Bread Xpress, told me by phone this week that the new machine is meant to offer a more complete meal solution. “We have the ability to provide a food menu from breakfast to dinner,” he said. Croissants in the morning, turkey sandwiches at lunch and pizza for dinner.
The Bake Xpress can hold and refrigerate up to 80 items. Each item is in a box with a special barcode that the machine scans to know exactly where each croissant, sandwich and pizza is located. The food is all parbaked, so when a customer places an order for a hot item, the machine grabs the box and heats the item using a combination of microwave, infrared and convection heating, depending on the item. Food takes anywhere from 60 seconds to three minutes to heat up.
Right now there are eight Bake Xpresses operating. Of those, however, only one at the University of California at Berkeley is available to the public. A second one is coming online next month, either replacing the old machine at Stonestown or going into a unnamed hospital facility, according to Herve.
Bake Xpress has partnered with an undisclosed food service provider to help with the placement and operation of its machines. Le Bread Xpress gets its revenue by renting out the machines and taking a cut of sales.
Bake Xpress is emblematic of the golden age of vending machines that we are entering. Companies like Le Bread Xpress, Chowbotics, and Yo-Kai Express are all looking to level up automated food service by offering high quality fare at a reasonable price that’s available 24 hours a day. All of these companies are targeting college campuses, hospitals, airports and other high-traffic areas where people want something more than chips and soda at odd hours of the night.
What’s more, because these machines have a relatively small footprint, it’s less of a zero sum game. There’s no reason you can’t have Chowbotic’s Sally next to a Bake Xpress if you want a sandwich and a salad.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see co-location/marketing deals between complementary vending robots pop up as they all gain more traction. Something to look for on my next food robot tour of San Francisco.