February 6, 2018 / 1:41 PM / 10 months ago

Tyson invests in smart-oven startup in move beyond meat market

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Tyson Foods Inc (TSN.N), the country’s largest meat processor, has invested in Tovala, a startup company that makes internet-connected steam ovens for ready-to-cook meals as it expands beyond its traditional markets.

Tyson food meat products are shown in this photo illustration in Encinitas, California May 29, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Tyson Ventures, its $150 million venture capital arm, joined other investors in the deal raising funds for Chicago-based Tovala, which uses bar-code technology in meal preparation. Tovala will use the money for marketing, product investment and expansion.

David Rabie, Tovala co-founder and chief executive officer, said the ovens will make it easier for people to eat at home by controlling the experience including the hardware, software and food without sacrificing convenience, health or taste.

Tovala provides a steam oven and delivers ready-to-cook meals, and the customer scans a bar code with a smart phone to cook the meal.

Last month, Tyson said it invested in Memphis Meats, a startup that grows meat from animal cells. Late last year Tyson increased its stake from 5 percent in plant-based protein producer Beyond Meat, but did not say by how much.

The financial terms of the Tovala deal were not disclosed.

“We’re a protein company now and with that comes a whole host of new spaces to look at and opportunities to consider, if you think about that in the framing for what we’re going to ultimately focus on,” Justin Whitmore, Tyson’s executive vice president of corporate strategy and chief sustainability officer, told Reuters.

Whitmore said the deals with the alternative protein startups does not mean Tyson is moving from its traditional meat roots.

“Growth in protein implies there could be new alternatives emerging and that’s where you see some of our investments in the cultured and veg-based meat spaces and our protein space as well,” said Whitmore.

(This version of the story corrects to show that amount invested in Tovala was not disclosed and that $150 million is the size of the venture capital arm)

Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe

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