Is Tovala the next Juicero?

CHICAGO — You’ll excuse us for being reminded of Juicero — the I’ll-fated $400 juice presser that famously fooled several VCs this year (turns out you could squeeze those juice packets just fine with your bare hands) — when we came across news of Tovala’s launch earlier this week.

Techy, countertop appliances at this price point are still tainted by that debacle, and to be frank, it’s not an unjust comparison in this case. The two biggest similarities between Tovala and Juicero are fundamental to their business models: Both feature a $400 appliance made for the countertop that are sold at cost; and both also make their money through the subscription model that comes with the appliance.

That, however, might be where the comparison ends. To truly condemn Tovala from the outset because of shared similarities with Juicero would be rather unfair. On the face of it, Tovala seems to be a genuinely thoughtful product. Whether it solves a marketplace failure or not, however, is an entirely different question altogether.

So what exactly is Tovala?

  • Chicago-based founders David Rabie and Bryan Wilcox are calling this a ‘smart oven’ and it comes (in case you missed it the first several times) with a $399 price tag. Unlike your standard microwave or convection oven, this one can bake, steam, and broil.
  • Alongside the initial outlay for the oven itself, Tovala is also a subscription meal kit service. In fact, they’re shipping the ovens at near cost and are banking on the lifetime value from the meal kit subscriptions.
  • The oven scans the barcodes of its subscription meal kits which allows it to cook each dish properly.
  • Ostensibly Tovala solves one of the biggest gripes with the Blue Aprons of the world — the inconvenience of having to prep, cook, and clean up everything for your meal. Tovala’s packaged kits solve that problem for you.
  • If you’re wondering, you can use the oven to cook food other than Tovala meals, but you have to set the oven via your smartphone app in order to do so — there are no knobs on the machine. In other words, that’s not the machine’s intended use.
  • Fun fact: It’s the second Y Combinator -backed physical product startup, alongside Burrow, to come to market this year.

Our initial thoughts.

The product is intentionally limited, but it’s as close as you’re going to get to a futuristic Jetsons microwave oven. From a consumer standpoint, though, it’s going to be a tough sell to convince people to add yet another appliance to their already crowded counter space, doubly so if that appliance comes with a $399 price tag. The idea clearly seems to be to replace the microwave with something more premium and automatic, but it’s not as if the microwave is broken. These facts coupled with the microwave’s ubiquity, the fact that most cost way below $399, and the limited familiarity (and limited compatibility) of this new contraption, and it certainly does look like they have an Alps-sized mountain to climb.

As one commenter at TechCrunch also astutely observed, Tovala actually has two battles to fight here: first, supporting an appliance; and second, supporting its home delivery meal kit service. Rabie has stated that the idea came to him as grad student at Chicago, but at a price of $36 for three single-serving meals, and $72 for three double-serving meals, that’s beyond the typical shoestring budget of most grad students. Per meal ($12 per meal), groceries are far more economic.

Our bet is that Tovala becomes a niche product and stays that way. We have to give this team kudos though: the branding and packaging is spot on, and the idea itself is certainly worth applauding.

Let's make it official, shall we?
You've made it this far. Time to commit. We make keeping up with the news and events in modern luxury super simple. We distill the important stuff, and send it right to you so you've got it all in one place.
Become a subscriber

Reporting Queue

Previous story

Glossier goes global: Canada, the UK, and France are all on the docket.

Next story

Scoop: Away’s new brand extension: A quarterly travel magazine called Here.