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Hot-food vending machines trending

GROWING APPETITE FOR CONVENIENCE: Vending machines that churn out hot meals such as pizza, spaghetti and even horfun are growing popular here. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER


    Jul 18, 2016

    Hot-food vending machines trending

    FAST food is becoming faster. But is it tastier? And will the average foodie - spoilt for choice with hawker fare and fast-food restaurants - relish chow from a machine?

    Hot-food vending machine companies like eeZee Vending and JR Vending think so.

    They are among at least three companies putting their money where their machines are in Singapore.

    Instant hot meals such as pizza, spaghetti and seafood hor fun can be dispensed within minutes. Each machine can hold about 100 items.

    Director of eeZee Vending Axel Steyer, 46, said he had noticed a gap in the market for hot-food vending machines.

    "Two years ago, there were no vending machines that dispensed pizza in Singapore.

    "Manpower costs are also high here so why not bring in vending machines?"

    Deputy president of Singapore Food Manufacturers' Association, Jimmy Soh, 46, said such machines are a good way to beat manpower costs.

    He added: "Hot-food vending machines have been a growing trend in Singapore.

    "It minimises labour handling and provides ready-to-eat food any time.

    "The cost of maintaining a machine is also much lower than maintaining a booth or restaurant."

    Two years ago, eeZee's pizza vending machine, Chef Mario, started dispensing 10-inch pizzas in flavours such as pepperoni, margherita and Hawaiian at Singapore Polytechnic and Singapore University of Technology and Design's housing facility.

    Each pizza costs $7.50.

    The dough and ingredients are raw, and it takes three minutes to bake in the machine, which can hold 82 pizzas.

    At a pizza chain, a slice of Hawaiian pizza can cost $4.50.

    Mr Steyer said rental fees range from nothing to $400 a month based on the location.

    "Some locations see vending machines as services offered to their students so it (rental) is free," he added.

    "But some locations charge a fixed rate plus electricity bills while others charge based on sales and commission."

    Another company, JR Vending, has been operating machines that dispense local delights since 2008.

    Dishes include seafood hor fun, chicken curry with rice and Western fare such as spaghetti bolognese and spaghetti carbonara with chicken.

    Each meal costs between $3.50 and $5, compared to between $3.50 and $8 at hawker centres.

    The pre-cooked meals are heated in the vending machine for three minutes.

    Chief executive of JR Group, Jocelyn Chng, said running a hot-food vending machine is more cost-efficient than operating a stall.

    "We don't need to have manpower at the vending machines although it operates for 24 hours."

    Director of toasted sandwich vending machine company Hotbake 24/7, Gareth Davis, 35, said the idea of cooked food from vending machines came from Europe.

    "Back in 2002, there was a trade show in Europe that showcased different kinds of vending machines. Then, my partners and I realised there was a void in the market for fresh food from vending machines," he added.

    Hotbake 24/7 started in 2003. Each machine can store 120 sandwiches.

    The three companies declined to disclose their revenue.

    Said Ms Chng: "More people are receptive to buying from vending machines but there still remains a lot of awareness and education that we need to do to win over customers."