First came frozen TV dinners and ready-to-microwave meals. Now there’s Genie, an Israeli high-tech startup offering a countertop “smart oven” claiming to cook restaurant-quality meals and snacks from freeze-dried pods within three minutes. They contain no preservatives, artificial flavorings, colorings or additives.
Founded in 2014, the Genie Enterprise food-tech company recently raised $10 million in an oversubscribed financing round.
The food-prep system is soon pre-launching in the United States, starting at a few workplaces in New York City and branching out later to coffee shops, hotels, hospitals and more.
“We want to become big and so we want to go slowly and learn the best way we can,” cofounder and CTO Doron Marco tells ISRAEL21c. “We’re getting calls every day from a lot of companies and we’re choosing a few to start with.”
Initially, Genie will offer eight meal pods in the US market (some kosher), such as pasta Bolognese, chicken with broccoli in Alfredo sauce, oatmeal with apples and cinnamon, and molten chocolate lava cake. The pods will be prepared by chefs at California-based Mattson Food using locally sourced ingredients.
“Our chefs and food engineers in Israel are working with Mattson chefs in the US to adapt the menus to the American palate,” Marco says.
The ingredients are sealed in individual pods with a shelf-life of one to two years. When the smart oven scans the bar code printed on the outside of the pod, it registers the instructions for how to prepare that particular dish in a proprietary sequence of heating, cooling, agitating, microwaving and steaming.
The Genie oven, pods and method are all patented.
Tested at Apple Israel and on army bases
Apple Israel employees and IDF soldiers tested a variety of kosher Genie meal options over the past year.
Col. Ariel Ben-Dayan initiated the test on behalf of the IDF’s logistics branch. As commander of six operational airborne and special units, he was on the lookout for faster and healthier ways to feed soldiers when mess halls are closed.
“The most important thing in the army after discipline is physical fitness,” Ben-Dayan tells ISRAEL21c. “The soldiers work 24/7 but we don’t have a kitchen open 24/7 so they end up eating too much junk food.”
The trial convinced him that the Genie system checks all the boxes for convenience, flexibility, taste and nutrition, he said. Every other quick-meal product he’d tried before had additives and preservatives.
Ben-Dahan says he believes that if Genie can successfully scale up to mass production, “we’re talking about a revolution. This is a product that can really change the life of every household in the world. Everybody is trying to meet the challenge of producing healthy meals and producing them very quickly. With Genie, we saw both happening at the same time.”
Marco and cofounder Ayelet Carasso-Sternberg, the chief executive of Genie, saw soldiers on a remote base actually sending their parents pictures of their Genie food. “The trial was a huge success,” says Marco.
Enormous market opportunities
Genie investor Warren H. Feder, a partner at Carl Marks Advisors, said there are “enormous market opportunities” in the United States.
“We believe that Genie is a game-changer and will capture significant US market share by bringing its revolutionary food system to businesses and organizations, feeding people tasty and healthy meals conveniently and economically,” said Feder.
The oven and pods will be available in a choice of lease-or-buy plans similar to an office coffee-machine model.
Marco, a serial entrepreneur, handpicked interested investors (including Israeli-American behavioral economist Prof. Dan Ariely of Duke University) who share his vision of building up a potentially global company from a permanent base in Israel.
The headquarters in Rishpon in central Israel has 15 employees and counting. The Genie ovens are manufactured in the northern town of Karmiel. The company co-owns a pod-filling facility in Meron, in the Upper Galilee, with the capacity to manufacture 10 million meals per year for the Israeli market.
“We are now starting to upscale our commercial phase in Israel,” says Carasso-Sternberg. “There’s huge demand — more than we expected.”
“Genie really touches people,” she adds. “In every market or niche, each person is different in how they relate to food in terms of waste, sustainability, allergies and quality. And everyone who sees Genie finds something to relate to.”
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