Tender is a plant-based protein startup trying to make whole-cut meats (Natalie Portman's a fan)



The holy grail for plant-based alternatives to meat is whole cuts. Those are the chops, loins, filets, breasts, thighs and ribs that most meat eaters want to eat.

While Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have made significant inroads into replacements for the ground meat market, no one's been able to capture the consumer's imagination with a steak that eats like a steak but doesn't come from a cow.


Well, Tender Food wants to be your huckleberry if you're looking to eat something that's just like meat.

The company has its origins in research from Harvard University, which enabled the creation of whole muscle cuts that the company says, look, taste, and feel like the real thing. Two years ago the company launched as Boston Meats with a mission to commercialize the technology.


“Our ambition is to make products that are indistinguishable from butchered meat,” said Christophe Chantre, CEO and co-founder of Tender, 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.”

Chantre worked as a postdoctoral research fellow in the lab of Kevin Kit Parker, the researcher whose work at Harvard (in the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering) inspired Tender's tech.


“The texture of real meat has been very difficult to imitate with current alternative meat texturizing solutions,” said Parker, who is also a co-founder of Tender and former guest judge on the Food Network. “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.”


Think of Tender's tech as a loom. It's got machines that spin plant proteins into strands that mimic muscle fibers and can be woven together and integrated with fats to create meat cuts.


According to a statement, the result is meat replacements that have no discernible difference from animal products but without additives, fillers, or the risk of bacterial illnesses.


“The roughly 6 billion carnivorous humans that eat meat drive about 15% of total carbon emissions,” said Chris Sacca, co-founder of Lowercarbon Capital, which led a recent $12 million investment into Tender. “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.”


Lowercarbon was joined by investors like the activist and actor, Natalie Portman, the climate-focused media and investment company, My Climate Journey, and Unovis, an expert in protein investment.


As the folks at My Climate Journey wrote in their recent investment memo:


With the global meat market representing $1.4 trillion in annual sales, a herd of alt-protein companies — spanning plant-based to cell-based (a.k.a. lab-grown) — has amassed to create a burgeoning industry. This surge of interest and innovation in revolutionizing humanity’s relationship with meat is an encouraging development, as the agriculture sector at large represents several staggering statistics: a third of world greenhouse gasses, a major driver of deforestation, and a consumer of 70% of global freshwater supply. However, despite the many available brands and options appealing to vegans, flexitarians, and “Climatarians” alike, capturing the broader market of traditional meat-eaters remains elusive. As the price of plant protein has fallen in line with ground beef, the non-traditional flavor and texture of alternative meat is considered the lingering barrier for many.




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