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MONTICELLO CONTE OTTO, Italy — Troops stationed in Italy know that one of the quickest and cheapest ways to pick up something to eat is to stop by a local pizzeria.

But a company producing new vending machines in a factory about halfway between Vicenza and Aviano is hoping to at least occasionally take the pizzeria out of that equation.

Yes, a vending machine that dispenses hot (or frozen) pizzas.

Rocco D’Ospina, one of the chief backers behind Pizzaly by Italia Pizza Service, hopes to take the world by storm. Or least by the coin. He said in an interview last week in his corporate offices just outside Vicenza that about 10 million euros has been spent on research and development over the past decade.

That work has resulted in about 50 machines being produced each month in San Paolo di Piave. D’Ospina said that production could increase dramatically if the demand takes off.

So far, about 100 machines are in use around Italy, he said. But versions of the machine have been tested in Japan, Austria, Germany and Switzerland in recent years. And D’Ospina admits that the U.S. is a huge potential market.

In fact, American consumers might be far more likely to get their pizzas from a machine than their Italian counterparts, who pride themselves in their love of food and good cooking.

"This is true," D’Ospina said.

But while some Italians are likely to turn their noses (and taste buds) away, that’s not always the case, according to Andrea Gentili, the marketing director for Palladio Vending, the company selling the machines.

He points to a few reviews in Italian magazines. And D’Ospina said the company set up a machine and gave out free samples at the recent Carnivale in Venice. He said customer satisfaction cards indicated that 87 percent liked the pizza.

"It’s definitely not the same as you would get in a pizzeria," Gentili admits. But he said the pizzas are made by pizza makers using top quality, fresh ingredients.

They’re made in the province of Treviso, where they’re pre-cooked and frozen. D’Ospina said 104 can be stored (at -18 degrees Celsius) in a machine for up to two years. But he said he doesn’t expect any of them to be there that long. If they are, there’s obviously not enough of a demand.

A customer can choose from four different types of pizzas at a machine. After they make their selection, an oven — not a microwave, D’Ospina emphasizes — takes 2½ minutes to cook it. Customers can also choose to buy it frozen and cook it elsewhere. That takes the machine about 45 seconds to produce.

D’Ospina said there are currently about two dozen varieties of pizzas produced and more will likely be introduced depending on the tastes of the countries where they’re located. Inquiries have come from all over, he said, including Algeria and China.

The pizzas are a bit smaller than the traditional Italian offering — about 10 inches in diameter — and will cost between 3 and 4.50 euros, depending on the country or company operating the machines.

D’Ospina said he would welcome the opportunity to show off the product at an American base, though he hasn’t made such contacts yet.

Valentina Lehman provided translation for this report.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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