New Zealand-based start-up Leaft Foods secures $15M to extract plant-based protein from leaves

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AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
Leaft co-founders Maury Leyland penno and Dr John Penno standing in field of green plants

Based in Canterbury, New Zealand, protein innovation start-up Leaft Foods has raised $15M in a Series A round of funding to extract the RuBisCo protein, found in green leaves.

Founded in 2019 by husband-and-wife team, Dr John Penno and Maury Leyland Penno, Leaft Foods aims to turn the RuBisCo enzyme into an edible protein that can be used in different food applications.

The start-up has developed proprietary technology to extract the RuBisCo protein – a key enzyme which causes photosynthesis in plants – from green leaves.

What makes the protein an attractive alternative to meat-based proteins is that it contains a very close amino acid profile to beef, is easy to digest, neutral in taste, and does not need to be blended to improve its performance.

Humans and animals are already consuming RuBisCo unknowingly, as the protein is found in leafy greens, spinach and kale.

Co-Founder Dr John Penno says: “Bringing this all-in-one protein to the market will have a huge impact on the lives of people dissatisfied with animal and plant proteins, many of them citing taste and environmental reasons, while also, creating a pathway for New Zealand farmers to diversify into a system with a lower environmental footprint.

The company is keen to follow a regenerative agriculture business model, and already uses an integrated farm management approach on site, creating animal feed from the co-product produced during RuBisCo extraction.

The money raised in the Series A round will be used to improve Leaft’s R&D, grow the team, and ensure the company has significant manufacturing capacity to get its product ready for market launch.

Contributing investors include Khosla Ventures, who led the round, ACC’S Climate Change Impact Fund, Ngāi Tahu Holdings, and NBA player Steven Adams.

Maury Leyland Penno, Co-Founder of Leaft Foods says: “The priority has always been about getting people along on the journey with us. The Leaft system could be truly transformational, and that is what our investment partners are backing.

“We deeply understand the challenges of the current food system, which is why we have designed a business model that integrates with existing farm systems. Leaft Foods is creating an opportunity for New Zealand agriculture to lead the global plant protein market, which could reach $US36B by 2024.”

CEO Ross Milne also commented: “We have spent the last three years validating the Leaft system and proving our protein extraction technology at pilot scale. Embarking on commercialisation means generating an entirely new value chain. Our focus is on developing partnerships with those who share our commitment to creating a food system that prioritises the environment.”

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