Are the robots finally taking over? It would seem so.
QSR magazine, a sister publication of PMQ, recently reported on the increasing number of fully-automated vending machines in the pizza segment, specifically namechecking PizzaForno and Pizza Jukebox as two companies that are circumventing the traditional restaurant model in favor of pizza-dispensing machines.
Les Tomlin co-founded PizzaForno after an experience he had on a trip to France. In a small town north of Paris, QSR reported, Tomlin spotted a woman “taking a pizza out of a wall.”
“We thought if we could get this technology to North America with a brand attached to it, we could resolve a whole bunch of risks,” Tomlin told QSR. “Issues like labor, real estate costs, waste and [24/7 availability] could all be solved.”
Tomlin and his team spent eight months in the research and development phase and eventually created a kiosk with a 32” touchscreen, a robotic arm and a convection oven that can bake a pizza in about three minutes. Ingredients are delivered to the vending machine via Sysco, but that’s about where human intervention begins and ends.
PizzaForno launched its first kiosk locations in Canada but has since added locations in states like Michigan, Louisiana and Georgia. The company says it has a goal of rolling out 20,000 automated kiosk locations by 2026, in markets everywhere from rural food deserts to high-traffic areas like college campuses. Because the machines do not require any staffing, PizzaForno can serve eaters 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We can provide a hot food option in markets that are too small for the big players to operate in,” Tomlin explains. “We’re in a town called Bolivar, Texas, and it is one of our top-performing units right now because there’s literally no food within 15 miles of that location.”
Pizza Jukebox, owned by BRIX holdings, opened its first location inside a Walmart in Frisco, Texas, earlier this year. Like its rival, Pizza Jukebox is a fully automated experience. Unlike PizzaForno, however, the Pizza Jukebox lets customers actually watch a robotic arm lift a pizza onto a platform, dress it and sprinkle on other toppings while the pie spins around to ensure consistency. Then, the arm places the pizza into an oven where it is baked for about three minutes. Pizza Jukebox also lets customers choose a song to listen to while the pizza rotates—which is where the company gets its name from.
“I’m a big fan of utilizing technology to create and support great experiences,” said Sherif Mityas, CEO of BRIX Holdings, which also owns brands like RedBrick Pizza, Smoothie Factory, and Red Mango. “We wanted to marry something very innovative with great-tasting pizza that’s got a little bit of theater attached to it.”
Like PizzaForno, Pizza Jukebox has plans to expand rapidly. If the new vending-machine companies have their druthers, they’ll be serious competition for pizzerias across the U.S. for years to come.
“Once people try [PizzaForno], they will say ‘Wow, I cannot believe this quality of pizza is coming out of an automated pizzeria,’” Tomlin says.