Et voilà: Baguettes from a vending machine

Baker Jean-Louis Hecht hopes his French bread vending machine will ensure people can get their hands on fresh baguette at any time of the day or night. Photo / Thinkstock
Baker Jean-Louis Hecht hopes his French bread vending machine will ensure people can get their hands on fresh baguette at any time of the day or night. Photo / Thinkstock

France is the home of the baguette, that savory, 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 for a summer holiday.

Jean-Louis Hecht thinks he has the answer.

The baker from northeast 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 bakeries.

The vending machines take partly precooked loaves, bake them up and deliver them steaming within seconds to customers, all for €1 (NZ$1.72).

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 beurre et confiture (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 machine will be paid for within a year, Hecht said.

- AAP

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