The track record for smart kitchen devices is fairly uneven. On the one hand, you have Juicero, which was widely ridiculed for selling a $400 juice machine and that shut down soon after Bloomberg reported it was no more effective than one’s own hands (but not before investors sank more than $118 million into the company).
On the other hand is the Anova Precision Cooker, a $145 Wi-Fi- and Bluetooth-enabled device that managed to get its parent company sold to the appliance giant Electrolux in February for $250 million after raising around $1.8 million on Kickstarter.
Uncertainty over which next-generation appliances will take off with consumers isn’t stopping investors, however. The newest case in point is Tovala, a three-year-old, Chicago-based startup that makes $399 “smart” ovens, along with meals to cook inside them (think baked eggplant and apricot-glazed salmon). It just raised $9.2 million in fresh funding led by earlier investor Origin Ventures.
The round, first reported by Crain’s Chicago Business, also included Pritzker Group Venture Capital; Morningstar founder Joe Mansueto; restaurant and real estate entrepreneur Larry Levy; and Y Combinator, whose accelerator program the startup passed through last winter. It brings the company’s total funding to $11.5 million.
TechCrunch covered Tovala’s steam oven — which can be operated remotely via an app — last summer. As we noted then, the company says its product can bake, boil and steam meals at up to 550 degrees Fahrenheit in 10 to 30 minutes, and that it works with either prepackaged Tovala meals or customers’ own food.
However, the real money maker for the startup will be in the meal delivery service, in Tovala’s view. As co-founder David Rabie had told us for that earlier piece: “This is one of the biggest complaints with the meal kit companies – [that] after all the cooking, you’re left with a ton of pots, pans and plates to clean. There’s literally no clean up required with our meals.”
Whether that pitch works well enough with customers remains to be seen, but certainly, Tovala has entered into a crowded, and complicated, market.
Blue Apron’s business has suffered most publicly because its performance as a public company has continued to disappoint investors, but all meal delivery companies that are still up and running are dealing with the very big challenge of getting their ingredients just right, in the right proportions, all while keeping customers happy by presenting new meal choices.
In the meantime, VCs don’t appear to be giving up on smart home technologies any time soon, including those that are focused around high-end kitchen appliances — and which come with a subscription business to support them.
In May, for example, Brava, a stealth-mode IoT company with plans to create a suite of domestic hardware and software products, closed an undisclosed amount of funding that more than doubled the $12 million in Series A funding it had raised the previous year led by TPG Growth.