We were watching the vending machine space closely before the pandemic, because of their increasing ability to create high-quality food in very small footprints. But ever since COVID-19 crashed all over the world, we are paying even closer attention to vending machines because they eliminate person-to-person contact when buying a meal.
There are a number of cool vending machines out there making great food: Yo-Kai Express serves up hot bowls of ramen, Chowbotics makes salads and grain bowls, Bake Xpress pushes out warm pastries. Now you can add to that list API Tech’s Smart Pizza machines, which, as you can probably guess, deliver hot pizza into your paws in under three minutes.
Smart Pizza makes standalone vending machine that can hold up 96 par-baked pizzas. Once a pizza is ordered either through a built-in touchscreen or on a mobile app, the pizza gets a final cook using a proprietary oven before being boxed up and dispensed.
Spoon readers might recall another pizza vending machine coming to market made by Basil Street. But unlike Basil Street, which makes the Automated Pizza Kitchen (APK), API Tech is an industrial automation company and does not make any of its own pizzas. The machine is sold to food companies, which can then stock it with whatever types of pizza they choose. The system menu can handle up to 200 different pizza recipes, with the operator determining the prices for each flavor.
Detlev Goedbloed, Business Development Manager USA at API Tech told me by phone this week that another differentiator for the Smart Pizza machine is the way it cooks. The companies proprietary heating system can change up the cook program based on the pizza. So if you have a pizza with fresh food on top (like pineapple) the oven will heat just the bottom; but for something like a plain cheese pizza, it can heat the top as well. Goedbloed also said the Smart Pizza’s oven allows the final product to have a crisp, pizzeria-like crust.
Because the Smart Pizza machine stores pizza that is not frozen, pies can only last for a couple of days in the machine before they need to be removed. Basil Street’s APKs store frozen pizzas, so they can last for a month inside the machine.
API Tech is headquartered in Nancy, France and right now has 223 Smart Pizza vending machines across Europe and the UK. Last year the company placed its first two machines in the U.S., one in California and one in Florida. API Tech sells the machines outright at a cost of $68,000 and is currently working on expanding its presence in America.
Perhaps most important right now, given the state of the world, is the fact that these machines can operate without a human (except for the restocking bit). Customers don’t even need to touch the machine to order or pay as that can be done through an accompanying app. These will be valuable attributes in a post-pandemic world, and definitely something we’ll be watching closely over the coming year.