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- Zume, the former robotics startup that specialized in automated pizza-making, is now selling disposable face masks, Business Insider has learned.
- The startup is using its manufacturing facility in Camarillo, California, to produce the masks. And according to the Zume website, the company appears to no longer be producing the food packaging products that it refocused the business on in January.
- The change comes amid a pandemic that has squeezed big businesses and startups alike, putting tens of millions of Americans out of work.
- But Zume’s troubles began well before the coronavirus. The startup, which was backed by Japan’s SoftBank and valued at $1 billion in 2018, has shuttered multiple other parts of its business and laid off more than 500 employees since January.
- The company’s masks are not medical grade and are designed for ‘everyday use’ the company’s website says.
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Zume, the troubled SoftBank-backed startup famous for its pizza-making robots, has shifted its business to exclusively producing and selling face masks.
On Monday, Zume began officially offering the masks for sale on its website, with 10- and 100-packs of masks produced out of its facility in Camarillo, California, available for roughly $1.44 per mask.
“Zume is now manufacturing face masks to help in these challenging times,” the company’s website says. A note on the site’s FAQ regarding the status of the company’s sustainable food packaging products reads “we are currently focused on manufacturing face masks in order to do our part during this crisis,” and directs questions to a customer support email.
The disposable masks, which the company said are made from “non-woven, natural fibers,” are not the N95 respirators or surgical masks worn by healthcare workers at the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic, and they are not intended to serve as personal protective equipment, Zume’s website says.
The masks are intended for “everyday use” such as protecting against “non-toxic household dusts, powders, allergens, and other irritants,” Zume’s site says.
The company’s mask production represents the latest strategy pivot by Zume cofounder and CEO Alex Garden. As recently as April, Garden said the company was refocusing on sustainable food packaging produced in the Southern California facility after shuttering all other divisions of the business, including its flagship robotics division. In all, Zume laid off more than 500 employees since January as Garden’s vision for the business has shifted from the initial plan of creating robots capable of making pizza.
In the months since the January reorg, the coronavirus pandemic has squeezed big businesses and startups alike, putting tens of millions of Americans out of work.
Zume was most recently valued above $1 billion following a $375 million funding round led by SoftBank Vision Fund, but has struggled to land additional funding as it assesses the future of the business.
Sources previously told Business Insider that Zume’s Camarillo production facility had recently been converted from manufacturing food packaging to mask production.
It is not clear what production costs Zume has incurred to pull off the strategy shift, which could account for a portion of the ultimate cost of the masks. However, the machinery at the Camarillo facility is at the center of a lawsuit against Zume brought by Judson Scott Lilley, the president and CEO of Pivot Packaging, which Zume acquired in February 2019. The suit alleges that Zume misrepresented its financial condition prior to the acquisition, and accuses the startup of fraud. Lilley has requested that Zume return ownership of the machinery’s patent to him as part of the suit.
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