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Technology & Entrepreneurship

San Antonio Company Wants To Bring You A Guilt-Free Burger

Cows on farm
Richard Bartz, Munich Makro Freak
Cows on a farm.

A budding San Antonio company aims to bring you a guilt-free burger.

The large feedlots that produce the lion's share of our beef are often associated with health and environmental degradation.

“Beef has a pretty bad PR department,” said Lew Moorman, co-founder of Wholesome Meats, a San Antonio startup focused on producing grass fed beef and getting regenerative agriculture into people’s mouths.

Lew Moorman
Paul Flahive
Lew Moorman

“If you took 10 people off the street and asked them if they knew what regenerative agriculture was, you'd be lucky if one out of 10 knew so we see it that we have we have an opportunity to educate people first and and then convert them into customers next,” said Kent Wuthrich, CEO of Wholesome Meats.

Regenerative ag is a set of principles that restores ecosystems and puts more carbon in the ground. In a lot of ways it wants to turn back the clock on the industrialization of farming and turn it back even further on soil.

Wholesome Meats targets the beef angle of that return. It works with ranchers in Texas who “finish” their cows over grass, rather than in the large North Texas feedlots on corn. Those feedlots have been linked to water and other pollutants and their is widespread concern over the hormones used.

Despite the beef industry reducing its carbon footprint over the past 40 years, consuming beef in its current form is linked to climate change by many experts.

But starting a company where you have to educate the consumer would likely be a hard sell for a guy like Moorman. The former Rackspace leader, now serial investor and company builder, spends much of his time deciding how to make successful small companies even more so.

“We have decided that we want to spend time and capital to get regenerative agriculture to the mainstream,” said Moorman. This is why he and serial collaborator Ed Byrne started Soilworks earlier this year. They will invest and start companies to support and promote the success of the movement.

Generally recessions aren’t the best time to start companies. According to the bureau of labor statistics the 2008 Great Recession saw a marked decline in companies less than a year old. As we have seen the pandemic has made the dire numbers from 2008 look like a pot hole compared to today’s unfinished bridge. So, why launch Wholesome Meats now?

According to founders the pandemic has been two-sided: yes, it has made certain things more difficult. For instance it has delayed Wuthrich’s move to San Antonio. On the other hand, it has exposed the flaws of our current food system, especially in the beef industry.

Estimates are that 85% of feedlot cattle are processed by just four companies. That means big problems if something goes wrong.

A fire at a major midwestern slaughterhouse in December drove up prices and choked off supply for many beef products. Concern rose over workers at the plants being made to work despite COVID-19 running through many of the facilities.

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“There's almost oligopoly power amongst the top four producers. And they have very centralized operation. So, it's not very resilient," said Moorman.

In addition, there is currently a class action lawsuit over price manipulation against the four largest beef processors, National Beef, Tyson, JBS SA, Cargill and the Justice Department issued subpoenas against those same companies earlier this year in a separate investigation.

“And I think even the government wants to sort of see more resilience and more local processors. But I also think the other piece, is that, you know, the health exposure,” said Moorman referring to COVID-19 preying on people with diabetes and other health problems that diet can play a role in.

The other reason they were interested in launching now was the incredible growth and success that has been seen in lab-grown protein, or “fake meat. “

“I just think that the answer is not to industrialize it even more, which is actually what I think they're doing, which is to use more processing, more artificial ingredients. To try and replicate what nature produces,” said Moorman.

Wholesome Meats is currently supplying ground beef to nearly 20 restaurants and shops across Texas. Company founders have their sights set on growing the company nationally.

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org or on Twitter @paulflahive.

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