Meal kits have become one of the biggest trends in food retail in recent years, with dozens of new companies cropping up and even traditional retailers jumping on the bandwagon, hoping to cash in on time-strapped consumers who are seeking easy, healthy meals.
Tovala, a gourmet meal-kit service that uses a smart oven, is hoping to swoop in and woo these customers on the assumption that they still crave good food and convenience.
The Tovala oven is a countertop machine that combines four types of appliances: a broiler, a steamer, an oven, and a toaster. The oven is wifi-enabled and connects to an app with hundreds of recipes. The user simply needs to select a recipe on the app or scan the barcode on one of the service's prepared meals, and the oven will then do all of the work.
In February, Tovala received an undisclosed amount of funding from the food giant Tyson Foods. The capital raised was to be used to support Tovala's growth, including adding staff across all departments, geographic expansion, and investment in product, operations, technology, and marketing, Tovala said in a press release at the time.
On Tuesday, Tovala launched its new and improved second-generation machine, which is lighter than its predecessor and has a new function that enables users to cook without using the app. The first machine was rolled out in 2017.
Find out how it works below:
There are two main differences between the two models: The new model is 15% smaller and lighter than its predecessor, and users are now able to cook on the oven without having to use the app.
According to the company's CEO, David Rabie, not being able to use the oven without the app was one of the biggest complaints customers had about the original version.
Customers who sign up for 100 Tovala meals within the first 12 months of their purchase are eligible for $100 off the oven.
The oven itself costs $349 (about R5,000) and comes with a 180-day return policy.
Customers are required to pick which meals they want on a Wednesday for the following Monday.
There are eight meals to choose from each week.
"The overarching philosophy in the meals is to have clean ingredients," Rabie told Business Insider. There are no preservatives in the food, the meals are never frozen, and they are meant to last for the week only.
Rabie said the company had seen a lot of former meal-kit customers turning to Tovala after being frustrated by the chopping, cooking, and cleaning involved with other meal-kit services.
"I get customers that email me saying, 'You saved my marriage,'" he said. "It is insane what taking the stress of dinner away from people will do. We didn't expect this when we launched the company."
"Spreading a glaze is one of the more involved steps," Alexander Plotkin, the company's chief culinary officer, told Business Insider.
In some cases, you'll be doing no more than opening the box and peeling away the plastic.
Recipe instructions can be updated remotely from the company's headquarters.
The team says one of customers' biggest complaints with the first version of the oven was that it could be used only with the app. That limit has been removed in the new version.
For example, a miso-glazed salmon and charred citrus broccoli dish steams at 200°C for a minute and 30 seconds, convection bakes at the same temperature for five minutes and 30 seconds, and then broils at 260°C for four minutes and 15 seconds.
Tasting the food was probably the most surprising part of this test. While the machine is impressive, it's the high quality of the food that's the real game changer.
Disclaimer: These were voted as some of Tovala's most popular dishes, so we were sampling the best of the best.
Plotkin said that because of the low kJ count and portion control, some customers said they had lost weight while cooking with the Tovala oven.
Tovala is also thinking about developing meals that would fit into diet plans such as Whole30.
The app allows you to select how you want your egg cooked. We sought to replicate a soft- and a hard-boiled egg, and both were cooked to perfection.
Tovala is more convenient than a meal kit and healthier than a microwave meal. It's an efficient solution to healthy cooking at home.
But you need to be prepared to fork up for these dishes. While the economics might make sense if you live in a city where groceries prices are high, it is harder to justify elsewhere.
That said, if it can give you back your evenings and even save your marriage, maybe it's worth taking the hit.
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