▋It’s a cliché but it’s true—the French love their bread, whether it’s hot from the oven or hot from a vending machine.
A prize-winning baguette dispenser invented by French baker Jean-Louis Hecht not only offers hungry customers hot loaves at any time of the day or night but is bringing in the dough for fellow bakers who have invested in the machine.
Hecht, 57, who won the latest edition of the French Concours Lepine, an annual competition for unique inventions, said the idea of the “Pani Vending” machine came from his desire to spend the evenings with his family instead of being disturbed by eager customers asking for fresh bread at odd hours of the day, sometimes even when the bakery was closed.
“The purpose of this machine, the Pani Vending, is to ease the work of the salesperson and the baker because the bread that the baker puts in the Pani Vending machine, he will take it out ten minutes before the end of the baking, he will then have a pre-cooked product, and then it’s the machine that will complete the cooking, the distribution and the sale,” Hecht told Reuters Television.
The process is simple: you feed in one euro, the machine then bakes a pre-cooked loaf and dispenses a hot baguette 30 seconds later.
Hecht has already installed 20 machines in France and four in Russia. He said he hopes to sell thousands of machines throughout the world in the coming years.
While instant baguettes mean happy customers, not all bakers who have bought the machine are putting their feet up in the evenings.
Local boulanger Yvan Hocquel said he was working extra hard to earn his own bread and butter and even had to hire a full time patissier to help him as he was too busy baking bread.
“Personally it did not bring me any comforts. On the contrary, I have a lot more work but you can’t have everything,” he said.
The machine did bring him financial satisfaction, he added. Within a few months of having bought the baguette vending machine, he sold some 11,000 baguettes which helped him recover his €55,000 investment.
“You know, with the machine, in the long run, if I continue on this basis—we make some 8,500 baguettes a month—that means a turnover of €100,000 per month,” he said.
Vouching for the quality of the dispenser-made bread Trix Ninot, a flight attendant from the Netherlands said the machine had made her life much easier than before.
“In the beginning when we saw the machine it was a little bit strange because we were not used to it over here to see a machine. We want to go into the bakery to buy the bread. But the bread is very very good so when the bakery is closed, sometimes we take bread in the machine,” she said.
“But when it’s open, we go inside because you’ve got more choice for the bread,” she added.
Salam Azouni, a local construction worker, said the dispenser meant avoiding the sometimes serpentine queues outside the bakery.
“In the evenings, we have no choice. And sometimes it’s quicker, we park, we put a coin, we take the baguette, it’s hot, it has the same taste, it’s the same thing,” he said.
Hecht said four cities out of five in France have no bakery, and that his machine could resolve the problem. And fellow baker Hocquel said it was up to traditional bakers to invest in it to stop it from falling into the clutches of the big industries.
“Let’s say that if we, bakers, do not buy these machines, the industrial will do so it’s better for us to be well placed,” he said.