Last year at the Smart Kitchen Summit’s Startup Showcase, David Rabie stood next to a black box, one that resembled a microwave of the future or maybe even a toaster oven. Rabie’s company Tovala was making a smart steam oven that was connected to an app and able to perfectly cook certain meals with a catalog of food data and recipes. But the even bigger story behind Tovala wasn’t in the room at all; the company planned to launch an accompanying service designed to take on the meal kit delivery giants.
After a successful Kickstarter, Tovala is shipping to early backers and launching its flagship product offering to the masses this week. Tovala’s a smart steam oven comes with a ready-to-cook meal kit delivery subscription – focusing on drastically cutting down the time from food pickup to cooking to table. Using convection technology, a water chamber circulates heat to more evenly cook food and the oven is capable of steam, convection and broiling.
But the real innovation here is in the meal kit delivery service; unlike traditional meal kit delivery companies, Tovala sends customers their meals completely prepped and ready to stick in the accompanying smart oven. The customer scans the barcode using the connected app and tells the oven what you’re about to put inside, pulling the recipe down from the cloud to ensure your meal is cooked perfectly.
The meals might look a little like frozen dinners or airplane meals, but the results from early writeups like this one from Washington Post food writer Maura Judkis say otherwise.
Judkis writes, “I tried the Thai turkey meatballs with a hoisin glaze, served on cilantro brown rice with roasted asparagus, and was pleasantly surprised: The meatballs, studded with water chestnut, were crunchy and moist, the asparagus wasn’t overcooked, and a sambal sauce finish added a lot of kick. Another meal, miso salmon with roasted broccoli, delivered a velvety-soft piece of perfectly-done salmon”
Rabie spoke at last year’s Smart Kitchen Summit and described the target customer they are trying to lure – the ones who want even more convenience from a Blue Apron-style meal service. Perhaps the ones who stop using the service after just a few months – which according to the company’s S1 filings right before their IPO seemed to be a large majority.
“We’re trying to solve a common pain point – no time, want a delicious, healthy meal without the work. This seems to resonate across demographics.” – David Rabie, CEO, Tovala
Judkis also experimented with non-Tovala food, reporting that in general, the machine did well but (unsurprisingly) the ideal use for it was with the subscription service meals.
The Tovala Oven comes at a premium – $399 – but in theory could replace your wall oven if you subscribed to the meal service. It too has a higher sticker price than competitive meal kit delivery services, but not by much – charging $36 for 3 meals a week meals for a single person and $72 for the same amount for two people.
So far, Tovala is the only company combining a connected appliance with a prepared delivery service and is tapping into something core to our changing world. People have less time than ever but are more aware of the needs to eat healthy. For those willing to pay for convenience, the startup may be the answer.