Plant-based ‘meat’ startup Tender has already nabbed a fast-food chain contract, and another $11M

Plant Based Meat Startup Tender Has Already Nabbed A Fast Food Chain Contract And Another 11m

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Food technology startup Tender Food Inc. is a four-year-old startup elbowing its way into a market that is already crowded with well-known brands. It’s doing so well that it already secured a contract with Clover Food Lab’s fast-food chain in the Boston area.

The Somerville, Massachusetts-based company, formerly known as Boston Meats, develops plant-based alternative meat, including beef short rib, pulled pork, chicken breast and crab. 

Its technology involves spinning plant protein fibers, including soy proteins, similar to the way cotton candy is made, to create structured cuts of meat, company co-founder and CEO Christophe Chantre, told TechCrunch. Berlin-based Project Eaden is also utilizing fiber-spinning technology to make alternative protein.

Chantre believes Tender’s technology beats incumbent plant-based meat products, like Impossible Foods or Beyond Meat, in taste, texture, nutrition and cost. All four of those have traditionally been barriers to mainstream adoption within the food tech industry.

“Consumers have been largely disappointed by what’s on the market,” he said. “We’re focused on investing in the technologies so that we can create better products. That was the tough thing, until now.”

Tender Food, plant-based meat, alternative protein
Tender Food’s plant-based shredded “pork” product.
Image Credits: Tender Food

Since Tender Food started in 2020, the market has grown a lot. During that time, his company evolved and matured. Two years ago, he would have described Tender Food as a technology company mainly focused on R&D. While it is still a technology company, its focus has shifted into becoming commercial. 

“We are just starting to commercialize, so revenue was not a big focus, but it will be now,” Chantre said.

Some of Tender’s products have hit restaurants and universities in the Boston area, and a new partnership has Tender products now in more than a dozen Clover Food Lab locations in the area. 

“We’re a popular vegetarian chain, so, as you can imagine, we try a lot of new plant-based products,” said Chris Anderson, senior vice president at Clover, in a statement. “Tender’s stood out from the start — it’s innovative, it’s tasty, it’s a great addition to our grain bowls and salads.”

The move is buoyed by a new cash infusion of $11 million in Series A funding. Rhapsody Venture Partners led the round and was joined by existing investors like Chris Sacca’s Lowercarbon Capital and Safar Partners and new investors Claridge Partners and Nor’easter Ventures. In 2022, the company raised $12 million in seed funding.

In addition to meeting the demand for its new restaurant customer, the funding will go toward further product development. It will also go toward scaling up co-manufacturing with other companies to millions of pounds of product, Chantre said.   

The company continues to trial its products in the market, including with foodservice companies and large corporations that manufacture food. In the long term, Chantre also sees Tender Food as a technology enabler for the entire food tech industry, working with a host of different players across the value chain and perhaps licensing its technologies.

Meanwhile, Tender Food recently added Mike Messersmith, former North American president of Oatly, to its board of directors. After joining Oatly in 2017, Messersmith pioneered the company’s U.S. launch. Chantre said he met Messersmith through one of his investors.

“Since we’re evolving from being a technology company, to being a technology and commercial company, we’re recruiting builders and operators like Mike, who have that experience,” he said. “In our view, it is really valuable in this next step of our growth.”


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