Today Tyson Foods announced they have invested an undisclosed amount in Tovala, maker of smart steam ovens that pair with ready-to-cook home delivered meals. The investment comes on the heels of a $9.2 million series A announced in December. As part of the deal, Tyson will add an observer to Tovala’s board in Tyson Ventures managing director Reese Schroeder.
According to Tovala CEO David Rabie, the deal made sense for them as they started to look toward expanding the Tovala platform beyond their own meals.
“Over time, we will have other brands on the platform where we can automate the cooking, similar to how it works with Tovala meals,” said Rabie in an interview with The Spoon. “This (Tyson) is the first brand and harbinger of what’s to come.”
The move comes at an interesting time for big food companies like Tyson. Consumer packaged good providers are continuing to look for ways to reach the consumer as Amazon continues to wreak havoc on the retail landscape and consumers are increasingly exploring fresh food choices. Home food delivery is seen a potentially interesting – if still yet somewhat unproven – route to the consumer. The move by Tyson follows investments by other big food companies like Nestle, Unilever and Campbell into the home food delivery space.
What’s different about the Tyson’s investment is that with Tovala, they are also moving into the connected kitchen space. Tovala, an alum of the 2016 Smart Kitchen Summit startup showcase, is part of a growing trend of startups looking to pair food delivery with a smart cooking appliance. Sous vide circulator startups like Nomiku and ChefSteps have both ventured into food delivery, and just this week Suvie, a new startup from the founder of Reviewed.com, is kicking off a Kickstarter campaign for a cooking robot that pairs with the company’s own meal kit delivery. Smart kitchen operating system startup Innit has hinted they will be working with white-label meal kit company Chef’d later this year.
It will be interesting to see where this trend combining automated, assisted cooking combined with meal delivery goes. For companies like Tovala and Suvie, meal delivery provides a form of recurring revenue that more hardware-specific startups like June struggle with. On the other hand, the logistical challenges of building out meal delivery services add more complexity to creating a company. Long term, all of these companies are chasing the idea of creating greater convenience for the consumer. It will no doubt be interesting to see which companies get the combination right and begin to see traction in 2018 and beyond.