From: AP – August 09, 2011 7:25AM
Hungry? After hours? Soon Parisians and maybe most of Europe will be able to buy a freshly baked baguette from their local vending machine. FRANCE is the home of the baguette, that savoury, crisp staple of a fabled gastronomy. But just try getting a fresh one in the evening, or on a holiday, or even in August, when many of the country’s 33,000 bakeries are closed. Jean-Louis Hecht thinks he has the answer.
The baker from north-east France has rolled out a 24-hour automated baguette dispenser, promising warm bread for hungry night owls, shift workers or anyone else who didn’t have time to pick one up during their bakery’s opening hours. “This is the bakery of tomorrow,” proclaimed Hecht, who foresees expansion in Paris, around Europe and even the US. “If other bakers don’t want to enter the niche, they’re going to get decimated.”
For now, though, that’s a lot of talk. He’s only operating two machines – one in Paris, another in the town of Hombourg-Haut in northeastern France – each next to his own bake shops. The vending machines take partly precooked loaves, bake them up and deliver them steaming within seconds to customers, all for 1 euro ($A1.39). Despite the expansion of fast-food chains, millions of French remain true to their beloved baguette: it’s the biggest breakfast basic – most often with butter and jam – and the preferred accompaniment for lunch, dinner and cheese.
Yet customer convenience here often takes a back seat to lifestyle rhythms. Many stores in small towns and even lower-traffic areas of Paris close for lunchtime. And in August, many businesses – including bakeries – shut down for part or all of the summer holiday month. Late-night supermarkets are rare, even in Paris. And they’re generally seen as a source of low-grade, desperation bread, not the artisanal product of a certified baker. Hecht wants his automated baguette machine to fill in the gaps. His first try two years ago ran into repeated technical troubles. Now, with the help of a Portuguese engineer and improved technology, Hecht has developed a new-generation machine that started operating in Hombourg-Haut in January.
It sold 1600 baguettes in its debut month, and nearly 4500 in July. If that rate keeps up, the 50,000 ($A69,000) machine will be paid for within a year, Hecht said.
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