Mellow CEO Zé Pinto Ferreira

Last week, Mellow, the maker of an innovative sous vide system that includes features such as built-in refrigeration and a scale, announced a partnership with contract manufacturer Flextronics to help push the product into production.  That’s good news for Mellow’s early backers, since the $400 (presale price) product was expected to ship in early 2015.

But the announcement hinted at more than just a typical contract manufacturing relationship.  The two companies execs not only talked about bringing Mellow’s machine to market, but also said they would collaborate on future products. Adding to the intrigue is Flex, which had moved into the smart home when it acquired the business of distressed smart home company Wink from Quirky last year, sees the smart kitchen fitting nicely into the broader connected home.

From Flex’s president of Global Operations, Mechanical Technology Solutions, Gerhard Zebe: “We believe Mellow’s connected appliance could be an integral part of the smart home kitchen, and something consumers will want and enjoy.”

The Mellow smart sous vide machine

With news of this partnership for a company we’ve been tracking for the last two years, we decided to catch up via email with Mellow’s founder and CEO, Zé Pinto Ferreira, to ask him a few questions.

Below is our email interview. Answers have been edited slightly for brevity.

What is the nature of the partnership with Flextronics?

Ferreira: Flextronics has invested in Mellow in non-traditional ways (no equity or capital have been exchanged) that really come down to a much closer and more trusting working relationship than any customer I’ve ever seen have with a manufacturer. The best I can tell you is that Flex’s upper management is heavily involved in Mellow, and they’ve put a disproportionate amount of care in shipping the best possible product.

Mellow originally was intended to ship in early 2015. What was the reason for the delay in shipment?

Ferreira: The technology was harder to scale than we thought. That’s the hard part of building such a unique product, you never know what problems will show up when you scale from prototypes to mass production, especially when you have the standard for that quality we have. We’re on the cusp of shipping now, and we’re so proud of the product people will get.

The product is unique with its refrigeration and sous vide in one unit. Was trying to do both in one device a challenge?

Ferreira: It was insanely hard, but it was the only way to build the product we wanted to ship: a fully automated sous-chef that cooks while you’re away from home. Back when we started, lot of clever people thought what we were trying to do was impossible. We knew it wasn’t, and we’re about to prove it at scale.

Given how close Mellow is to production, how will things change with the partnership?  

Ferreira: The most exciting thing about a software-driven product like Mellow is that you’re not finished with it by the time it goes into a box. We’re shipping a simple proposition: An app and a device that make a great product together. But we’re extending that product to more platforms and integrations soon.

How do you see a sous vide maker benefitting from a partnership with a company that owns a smart home platform player like Wink?

Ferreira: We don’t see Mellow as a sous-vide device. Bear with me: It cooks food sous-vide, but it’s so different from everything else out there. Most sous-vide devices end up only being used for special occasions, and there’s a limited amount of work connectivity can do for you when you’re cooking a whole hog for 20 people. Mellow is made to be left at home cooking while you’re at work, so working together with the rest of the home to anticipate your needs/changes in your day makes a lot of sense to us.

Will your role change at all now with this partnership?

Ferreira: Not at all. Flex has been great at leaving us to do what we do best – designing a killer product for busy home cooks. Their interest is in taking our designs and making them at a level of quality where it can proudly be in any kitchen from day 1. Usually, when a hardware startup plays Apple, there’s a lot of compromise down the line. We haven’t had to compromise at all working with Flex, they understand our obsession with quality.

It’s been a few years since Mellow was announced. How has the market for consumer sous vide changed in this time?

Ferreira: We’ve seen a few new products come out since we announced, but nothing that really excites me. I have a Joule, Anova and Nomiku at home, and I get a lot of mileage out of them on special occasions, but I still haven’t’ seen anything that really screams mainstream. All (especially Chefsteps) are doing a great job with education and it shows in the category’s growth, but we’re still very far away from sous-vide being in every kitchen. In my opinion, that’s because circulators aren’t the tool for the job. But I’m pretty biased on that 😉