Tender Food (“Tender”), a food technology startup launched just over a year ago, has taken in $12 million in its seed round, to scale production of its plant-based meat products. The round is led by Chris Sacca’s Lowercarbon Capital and financing is joined by pre-seed lead investor Rhapsody Venture Partners, actress and renowned animal rights activist Natalie Portman, Safar Partners, Bread and Butter Ventures, MCJ Collective, and food tech specialist investor Unovis.

Alternative protein is one of the fastest growing categories in food and agriculture, but a central challenge to its wider adoption has been replicating the structures and textures of whole muscle cuts from animals. So far it’s all ground meat and nuggets. Based on innovations by engineers at Harvard University, Tender’s technology enables the creation of whole muscle cut products (e.g. chicken breasts, pulled pork, and steaks) that look, taste, and feel like the real thing, with applications from plant-based to cultured meat. Using an elegant process licensed from Harvard, Tender spins plant protein into strands that mimic real meat muscle fibers. In contrast to other plant-based products that imitate processed meat like sausages and burgers, Tender’s results have textures and cooking properties that you can’t tell apart from animal meat, with high protein nutritional profiles but no additives or fillers.

Tender, formerly Boston Meats, has been collaborating with local chefs to serve up taste tests that leave eaters unsure if the pulled pork in their sandwich came from plants or pigs. With this new funding Tender plans to scale up production to launch its first products later this year.

“The roughly 6 billion carnivorous humans that eat meat drive about 15% of total carbon emissions,” said Chris Sacca, co-founder of Lowercarbon Capital. “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.”

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

Tender’s unique approach is enabled by innovations in materials and protein fiber manufacturing originally conceived in the Harvard lab of Kevin Kit Parker, Ph.D., who is the Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and an Associate Faculty member of Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. Tender’s CEO, Chantre, was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Wyss Institute prior to launching the company.

“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.”

As consumers continue to incorporate more plant-based foods in their diet and make climate-conscious choices at the grocery store, Tender aims to create alternative meats including chicken, pork, and beef that will provide the right texture, taste, and nutrition at an affordable price.

Source: Tender Food