Tovala oven brings ready-made meals to the 21st century

By April 17, 2018

Chicago-based startup Tovala is starting up the much-disparaged, ready-made meal to gourmet proportions by using a high-tech smart oven with all the trimmings.

The Tovala oven comes with a $399 price tag but can do so much more than your regular oven. Incorporating a variety of features, the oven can steam, broil, and toast, as well as functioning as a normal convection oven when required.

Sound confusing? It needn’t be, as Tovala delivers meals to your door and all the user has to do is place the food in the oven, scan the barcode, and the oven will start cooking immediately, rendering everything to perfection and notifying you when it’s done. The ready meals, along with the cooking method, have been developed by talented chefs, and reviewers from Forbes, TheFastCo and Tasting Table all declared it delicious. Co-founder David Rabie spoke to Business Insider about the oven.

“The machine’s cooking technology has been used in really high-end commercial kitchens,” he told the online magazine. “We’re bringing that to consumers at an affordable price.”

Cooking fresh, tasty food becomes as mindless as popping something in the microwave, and the results are so much better. Imagine that lasagne with a crispy cheese topping straight out of the grill or salmon steamed to perfection with a miso glaze. It’s even better than getting food delivered because the food hasn’t sat getting soggy and lukewarm on the back of a motorbike on the way to your home.

Rabie spoke to TheFastCo, saying that although the idea was to create an easy, fast dinner for busy professionals, he still expected them to scoff them straight out of the tins in front of their favourite Netflix show. However, almost all users surveyed plated up the meal with care.

“They view it as an elevated experience,” he said. “These meals are $12 each, the ingredients are great. They’re pretty gourmet. Some of these meals have 30-40 ingredients.”

The oven isn’t only designed for these pre-prepared meals, however, as through the app you can cook pre-programmed items like chicken breast, or even have a go at programming your own recipes that use a variety of cooking techniques unavailable in a standard oven.

Cooking dinner has fast become a chore rather than an enjoyable experience and there is a multitude of companies that are trying to make dinner easier. What’s recently gained a lot of popularity are companies like Blue Apron or HelloFresh, which deliver ingredients to your house with a step by step cooking guide. This does save the soul-crushing trip to the grocery store but still requires the user to cook the food and do the dishes. Rabie spoke to TechCrunch about why Tovala is a superior experience.

“This is one of the biggest complaints with the meal kit companies – after all the cooking, you’re left with a ton of pots, pans and plates to clean,” he explained. “There’s literally no clean up required with our meals.”

Cooking, once a necessity, has dwindled in popularity as society becomes busier. With the massive increase in women in the workplace, there is no longer a mother or wife to stay at home and man the stove, and speed and convenience often win over taste and nutritional value.

Time magazine reports that Americans spent 43.1% of their food budget on food outside the home in 2012, as opposed to 25.9% in 1970. This is because eating food out is relatively less expensive now that in the 1970s, due to the proliferation of cheap and convenient fast food which gives us an easy alternative to cooking.

Online business news source MarketWatch explained why millennials are so unlikely to cook after research showed that 15- to 24-year-olds spend between 11 and 17 minutes daily on food preparation and clean-up. Kelly Weikel, the director of consumer insights for Technomic explained that cooking has become an aspirational trend, as even though they want to be able to cook, it’s rarely realistic as they are so pressed for time.

Bill Saporito, a writer for Time magazine, explained why he stopped cooking.

“The reason my wife and I don’t cook our food is the same reason that we don’t hunt our food,” he wrote. “These skills are no longer required to sidestep starvation.”

In other words, whereas in the past, cooking was synonymous with eating, now it has been relegated to a quaint hobby, which people do to relax of a Sunday afternoon, safe in the knowledge that if it doesn’t work out, then a meal is just a quick phone call away.

For those bored of the microwave ready-meals, there is another super-high-tech ‘intelligent’ oven called the June oven, which has similar capabilities as the Tovala oven but retails for a stupefying $1,495. Tovala claims that they sell their oven at cost price, seeing as the majority of their profits will come through the meal delivery service with June doesn’t offer.

Microwave ovens hit stores in the 1970s and had a profound effect on the way we cook and prepare food, and still fill kitchens around the world with their smug pinging noises. Maybe it’s time to move on from our archaic ‘normal’ ovens. Or maybe it’s just a fad aimed at high-earning professionals who have more money than time.