Tyson Foods invests in Tovala’s new oven and meal kit business

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Tovala, the startup that’s designed a new steam-based oven and accompanying meal kit subscription service, has inked an investment and partnership agreement with the food prep giant Tyson Foods.

Through Tyson Ventures, the company’s investment arm, Tovala will get an undisclosed amount of new financing as the two companies pursue collaborations on Tyson-branded Tovala meals.

Tovala chief executive David Rabie envisions his company as a “Netflix of food”. “Food is our content — and we’d like to offer the variety, convenience and quality of Netflix one day — with the scale and ubiquity (e.g. catering to all different demos/people) they’ve built,” Rabie wrote to me in an email.

With the investment from Tyson it’s as if the company had received an investment from Apple.

The Chicago-based company began three-and-a-half years ago when the 31-year-old Rabie was still in business school. He had spent years working in the food business, both at Veggie Grill as a protege of one of the company’s founders and at a small frozen yogurt chain in the Midwest and West Coast.

After attending Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago Rabie launched Tovala alongside the company’s other co-founder, Brian Wilcox — an engineer who received a doctorate from the University of Illinois. The two men were introduced through the owner of Chicago’s mHub co-working space (proof that these hardware co-working spaces can, in some cases, produce magic).

While steam oven technology has been around for years, the modern design of Wilcox’s new hardware, coupled with Rabie’s subscription meal business idea was appealing enough to attract the attention of Origin Ventures, which led the company’s $9.2 million round late last year.

Other investors in that funding round included the Chicago-based Pritzker Group Venture Capital; Morningstar founder Joe Mansueto; restaurant and real estate entrepreneur Larry Levy;  and Y Combinator.

We first wrote about Tovala when the company graduated from Y Combinator in 2016, and the new investment from Tyson Ventures shows just how far the company has come in a relatively short time.

While Tyson’s investment is a significant milestone, not all corporate venture investments pan out. Witness the debacle that was Juicero — which counted The Campbell Soup Co. among its many many backers.

While investors in that company basically set over a hundred million dollars on fire in a garbage can, Tovala’s chief executive is hoping that his investors’ capital won’t go up in steam.

There are other companies that have managed to heat up the oven market. Like the Anova Precision Cooker, a $145 Wi-Fi- and Bluetooth-enabled device that managed to attract the attention of Electrolux, which bought Anova’s parent company in February for $250 million — after the device raised around $1.8 million on Kickstarter.

Tovala’s oven retails for $399, but costs come down when customers commit to buying packages of the company’s pre-arranged meal kits. Buying 24 Tovala meals slashes the price of the oven to $199 and if a customer buys just four meals, Rabie drops $100 off the standard retail price.

“Our customers use the oven for two purposes — one is our meals and the other part of the value is the oven itself. Through the app you can cook meals and ingredients at the touch of a button,” Rabie says.