The Pizza ATM: Gimmick or marketing genius?
In June 2012, one of the most widely read articles in the history of PizzaMarketplace.com was published. The topic: Let's Pizza, a pizza vending machine, created by Claudio Torghel and distributed by A1 Concepts, based out of The Netherlands. The story, which discussed the brand's upcoming entry into the United States, continues to be one of the most read each year, despite the fact that Let's Pizza never made it to the States.
Let's Pizza, which creates pizzas from scratch in 2.5 minutes and had a growing presence throughout Europe since its launch in 2009, was supposed to open a U.S. headquarters in the Atlanta area. Machine distribution was expected to follow at a brisk pace, with national companies expressing interest in installation, however it never got off the ground in America. Why the machine never made it to the States is still a mystery as A1 Concepts did not respond to a request for comment about when it might hit the U.S., nor does its website give any indication about what it's been up to over the past four years.
The website, however, says that the pizza vending machine is still being developed by A1 Concepts, although under the name, IN4 Pizza, with a pizza-vending machine called nXt.
"It feels great to know that many people from all over the world believe in our pizza kiosk," according to a statement on A1 Concepts' website reads. "We know it took a while but the results are incredible: the latest technology makes it possible now to offer the best pizza's under four minutes and at a nice price as well. The fact that it is self-service makes it possible to offer pizza's 24/7. Quality of the pizza is our priority."
A Facebook page for the product was set up in January. It currently has three "likes" and contains no additional information.
A Google search produced another would-be competitor, Wonderpizza, whose website claims that it is in operation. Its phone number has been disconnected, however, and no one has responded to PizzaMarketplace.com's email inquiries.
Although the statuses of the A1 Concepts and Wonderpizza machines aren't clear, a seasoned player is entering the American pizza-vending machine game.
The Pizza ATM
Although it's not yet in America, the Pizza ATM has been producing and dispensing pizzas in Europe for the past 13 years, said Alec Verlin, the owner of Paline LLC, a privately owned business based in Cincinnati that produces the Pizza ATM.Paline has about 300 machines operating in Europe, mostly in small pizza stores and independent businesses such as La Borne, Turtles Pizzas Beauvais and Pizza Emport in France. Verlin hopes to duplicate that success in the States but first must establish a network of distributors in America. He's on target, however, to deliver the first American Pizza ATM in the next quarter. Any pizza brand may purchase one.
"It's doing great and it is known as the most reliable machine in Europe," said Verlin, who does not consider A1 Concept's nXt machine competition. "Revenues are growing double-digits each year. Again, there were a few attempts here in the U.S., but the machines were never ready. This one is."
Pizza ATM vs. nXt
The Pizza ATM is in a class of its own, said Verlin, when comparing it to the nXt, which he described as the "maybe-maybe-not vending machine" and a stand-alone kiosk found in gas and train stations, airports, etc., "where people don’t really care about the quality."
The Pizza ATM sells primarily to existing pizza businesses, so they can dispense their own products 24/7, meaning Pizza ATM owners load their own pizza ingredients into machines wrapped in the restaurant's logo and branding.
"Our concept is deeply different; we want the user to own their machines. nXt doesn't; it's a franchise, and the machine owners have to buy ingredients through nXt," said Verlin who pointed out that average gross profits are ranging from $45,000 to $55,000 per year per machine as long as the machine is "well located, the quality is there and the right buzz is created in the area the machine will stand."
Verlin added that Paline's 13-year history proves that machines offering eight to 10 pizza types are plenty of options to ensure success, but the machine can store up to 70 different pizzas.
"nXt is limited to four pizza choices that are smaller in diameter and weight," Verlin said. "The pizza quality and taste in the Pizza ATM is owned by the machine's owner. Ours pizzas are 12-inch pizzas, and they can weight up to 35 ounces if desired. In fact, Pizza ATM owners can feed the machine with whatever 12-inch or smaller pizzas they want."
The cost for a brand to buy a Pizza ATM, according to Verlin, will depend on the distributors’ agreement and quantities, but the market price is in the $50,000 range.
"It's the best in its category," Verlin said. "It's very low maintenance because the food never touches the machine."
What is the Pizza ATM?
The Pizza ATM's features include:
- 27-inch touchscreen display.
- Computer-controlled, high performance, electric convection oven.
- Temperature-controlled refrigeration unit.
- Proprietary management system for data collection and analysis.
- Real-time email and text alerts. Alerts are programmable for information such as inventory, sales, receipt tape and cold-storage temperature.
- Remote webcam monitoring; error and shutdown detection.
- Credit/debit-card ready.
- Customizable front panel.
- Capability to stream marketing messages of the machine-owner's choice.
So how does it work?
- The base is pre-cooked, the toppings are added and the pizza is put in an approved box.
- It is then placed in the cold storage, which can hold up to 70 pizzas at a regulated 37 degrees Fahrenheit.
- The robotic plate takes the selected pizza and positions it in the front oven.
- The mechanism lifts the lid, puts the pizza and the approved box in the oven, and then lifts the pizza out of the box.
- The convection oven heats the base and cooks the toppings in three minutes. Pizzas may have different parameters for temperature, cooking time and browning power.
Verlin said the computer manages the various types of pizzas in the cold storage and manages their BBE (Best Before End) date and the cooking time. The Pizza ATM uses the FIFO Method (First In First Out; the oldest pizza that hasn't exceeded its shelf-life will come out first. Shelf-life dates are set and managed by the Pizza ATM's software. Once the BBE date has been met, pizzas cannot be distributed and will be blocked from sales. BBE dates are set and managed per product type via the operating computer. The shelf life is adjustable and can be set by the owner/operator.
After the pizza is cooked, it is placed in its provided box and the lid is folded over. It is then delivered to the customer through the dispenser — like cash at an ATM.
Cooking times vary. It takes two minutes to cook a 14-ounce pizza and three minutes to cook a 21-ounce pizza.
Customers may also purchase an uncooked pizza and cook it at home.
Service, analytics, flexibility — like a bank ATM
The Pizza ATM, while seemingly complicated, is easy to care for, provides information about customers to its owner and has the flexibility for a variety of pizzas, Verlin said.
"It comes with sophisticated technology as well as an advanced management and reporting features," he said. "For example, both the cooking and cold storage temperatures are tracked permanently. If there's any deviation, it kicks off an alarm via text and email, and it stops the machine — no sales possible then."
He also said most of the service can be done remotely.
"The oven is another nice feature; it is proprietary and really innovative," Verlin said. "Another very important aspect that sets us apart is hygiene. The pizzas never touch any part of the machine. There's no contamination."
Most importantly, Verlin said the Pizza ATM allows any current pizza business to turn into a 24/7 operation.
"This can increase revenues in the range of 30 percent with getting a machine that offers a one-year return on investment," he said. "Based on our European history the returns average one year. When the machine is well managed it can be even faster. We've seen six-months returns, or a bit longer — up to two years when not enough attention is given. There’s no reason, the U.S. can't have the same return. We strongly believe the one-year return matters."
Restocking is also easy and will depend on the owners' principals of quality, said Verlin. Paline recommends that the machine be reloaded as the cold storage area gets to its minimum level without exceeding 49 hours. Inventory is managed automatically, including with live information sent to the owner via text message and email to the owner. The machine can stop a pizza from being sold after 24 or 48 hours.
Machine owners also receive information about what is selling well.
"We collect only quantities, types of pizza, toppings and the price paid," Verlin said. "Privacy regulations are much tougher in Europe, and we want to keep it the same way in the U.S. We are only interested in the Pizza ATM's stats."
Any pizza chain or pizzeria may purchase a Pizza ATM, said Verlin, who hopes to soon be doing business with the major pizza brands in the U.S. He's pitching the Pizza ATM to all brands possible — from the big names to the small.
"It is surprising that no automatic pizza vending machine sells in the U.S. already," Verlin said. "The USA is typically ahead of other countries with innovations. Indeed, it is time to provide American consumers what they are waiting for — self-served pizza kiosks. The Pizza ATM is a game-changer that will satisfy that 24/7 on-demand mindset of today."
Travis Wagoner spent nearly 18 years in education as an alumni relations and communications director, coordinating numerous annual events and writing, editing and producing a quarterly, 72-plus-page magazine. Travis also was a ghostwriter for an insurance firm, writing about the Affordable Care Act. He holds a BA degree in communications/public relations from Xavier University.