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Our Investment in Tender
Creating deliciously textured alternative meat
Once a novelty limited to the store shelves of vegan groceries, plant-based meat is estimated to now appear on 5% of menus at restaurants throughout the U.S., and it is projected that 71% of Americans have tried this type of alternative protein. Thanks to the popularity of brands like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, plant protein has gone mainstream and can be found in numerous markets and even fast food chains, like Burger King, KFC, and Panda Express. In the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, sales growth of plant-based meat outstripped traditional protein and, despite recent dips, the category is expected to grow fivefold by 2030 to $163 billion or 7.7% of the global protein market, up from $29.4 billion in 2020.
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.
Tender, based in Somerville, MA, is working to broaden the consumption of sustainable alternative protein by creating a line of meats whose texture is more authentic than what’s currently on the market. Through its proprietary manufacturing process, Tender is able to replicate the structures and textures of whole muscle cuts from animals, thereby producing an experience that is more familiar and delicious to those with discerning tastes. Tender’s team, comprised of scientists from Harvard University’s Wyss Institute, is leveraging research and methodologies with applications originating in muscle regeneration. We’re pleased to announce our investment in Tender, led by founders Christophe Chantre, Luke Macqueen, Grant Gonzalez, and Prof. Kit Parker. Our thanks goes to Alex Laplaza, Partner at Lowercarbon Capital, whose firm led this investment round and who originally introduced us to this exceptional team. In addition to an impressive line-up of climate and food tech investors, the actress and renowned animal rights activist Natalie Portman is also participating. We are excited to support Tender as it advances the adoption of more humane and sustainably-produced meat.
What is Tender?
Tender is an alternative meat company that is applying advances in material science and manufacturing to make the texture of plant-based protein indistinguishable from butchered meat. Focused on replicating the texture of chicken breasts, pulled-pork, and steaks, Tender spins plant protein — such as soy — into strands that mimic real meat muscle fibers. Unlike other products imitating processed meats, like sausages and burgers, the company is able to produce textures and cooking properties that one would be hard-pressed to distinguish from animal meat (both Jason and Thai can attest to this!). Moreover, with control over the end-product, Tender is able to deliver meat with a high nutritional value absent of additives or fillers. The company has been collaborating with local chefs to host taste tests and, with its new round of funding, plans to scale up production and launch its first products later this year.
Why Did We Invest?
Compelling Founder-Market Fit
Tender’s founders share a deep background in bioengineering and biomedical engineering and came together at Professor Kit Parker’s lab while doing graduate research related to how cells grow into muscle and tissue. Each has extensive experience in the research and development related to creating synthetic tissue scaffolding, which underpins Tender’s technology. The Wyss Institute, where the original R & D was nurtured, is Harvard’s cross-disciplinary research center that develops bio-inspired technologies for applications in health and sustainability. Tender is an example of its mission to commercialize its cutting-edge research.
Clear signs of consumer readiness
Whether spurred by issues of animal cruelty, climate change, or health, the growth of the market reveals an early embrace to integrate alternative protein in one’s diet. As the scale and variety of alternative protein expands — to date, largely filled by meatless ground beef, sausage, and breaded chicken — we believe it has the potential of mass-adoption and becoming an integral part of the everyday diet.
A clear climate impact proposition
Globally, the United Nations estimates that the meat industry constitutes more than 14% of all human-generated greenhouse gasses, which includes the methane produced by livestock. Of meat produced, beef is responsible for the most emissions: it is estimated that for every 3.5oz of meat 110lbs (50kg) of GHGs is released. This includes embedded emissions from processing, packaging, and transportation, not just the farming process. By opting for alternatives to red meat like plant protein, consumers can reduce their emissions footprint by 90%.
While the alternative protein market is arguably crowded, we believe it offers an opportunity to build another breakout brand that meaningfully improves the consumer experience through materially distinct technology. We have high hopes that Tender, with its team of experienced scientists and investors, can continue to hone its unique advantage to lead more to adopt animal-free protein.
If you are an accredited investor and want to learn more about being an investor in our fund (to back more great companies like this one!), reach out here, and include desired quarterly commitment level, accredited investor status, and info on your background and how you could be helpful to the portfolio.