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Boston-founded plant-based meat startup Tender Food has closed a $12 million seed round. The round was led by Chris Sacca’s Lowercarbon Capital. Former investor Rhapsody Venture Partners participated alongside activist and actor Natalie Portman, who recently backed French alt bacon maker La Vie. The startup, founded last year by Harvard engineers, is looking to scale production of its plant-based meats ahead of market launch.
Tender, formerly Boston Meats, claims to be introducing novel technologies into the plant-based meat market. The startup recreates whole muscle cut meats through ‘spinning’ plant protein. So far it has developed beef steaks, pulled pork, and chicken breasts, all boasting a realistic texture.
A focus on texture
The alt-protein sector is increasing at a lightning-fast pace but Tender claims it is moving away from traditional iterations of ground meat and nuggets. The company has been founded with a mission to capture the texture of real meat, including the tear and fibrous chew that plant protein has struggled to replicate.
“Our ambition is to make products that are indistinguishable from butchered meat,” Christophe Chantre, CEO and co-founder of Tender said in a statement. “By recreating the textures and fibers of animal-based meats, we can ensure that no matter what cut of meat you want, a plant-based product from Tender is what you reach for.”
Using tech licensed from Harvard, Tender creates whole muscle cuts by spinning plant protein into threads. When layered, these mimic muscle tissue, without the need for additives or fillers. The end result is, apparently, a high protein, nutritionally superior meat made from all vegan ingredients. Tender claims that its meat is indistinguishable from animal meat in terms of texture and cooking properties, setting them apart from processed products such as burgers.
“The texture of real meat has been very difficult to imitate with current alternative meat texturizing solutions,” Kevin Kit Parker, co-founder of Tender and Harvard professor said in a statement. “Our technology’s ability to replicate the architecture and mechanics of animal muscle in a plant-based protein food item, while meeting the nutritional goals of protein consumption, should impact the industry significantly.”
Getting the taste right
Tender says it has been working with local chefs to conduct taste tests. The intention is to gauge whether consumers will be able to distinguish between the plant-based whole cuts and conventional meats, such as pulled pork, when served in sandwiches. Results were positive and demonstrated what Tender considers to be an indistinguishable product. This is has helped catch the attention of investors for the recent seed round.
“The roughly 6 billion carnivorous humans that eat meat drive about 15% of total carbon emissions,” Chris Sacca, co-founder of Lowercarbon Capitain a statement. “Cheers to the vegans, but to win over everybody else you need steaks and chops made from plants that are just as tasty off the grill as what gets cleaved off a carcass.”
Tender aims to launch products to market by the end of 2022, following scale-up funded by the recent seed round.
Focusing on fibres
Over in Singapore, Audra Labs are taking a similar tack to Tender. An offshoot from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), Audra was founded on principles of tissue engineering. The startup produces plant-based polymers that can be assembled to replicate meat in taste and texture. The company aims to produce streaky bacon and chicken fillets as its first commercial products.
Israel’s Redefine Meat uses 3D printing technology to produce vegan whole-cut meats. In January, the company scooped $135 million in an investment round, to help with global expansion. Two new production lines have been cited as priorities for funding allocation. One line will be in Israel and the other in the Netherlands, to assist with E.U. distribution. Slovenia’s Juicy Marbles approaches whole cuts in a similar way and has produced the world’s first vegan filet mignon.
Lead image created using photos by @natalieportman on Instagram and Juicy Marbles.