Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Leaft Foods’ protein project secures more funds

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Canterbury-based food innovation Leaft Foods is creating an opportunity for New Zealand agriculture to lead the global plant protein market with potential to reach $US36 billion by 2024.
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Leaft Foods promoters Maury Leyland Penno, Ross Milne and John Penno say bringing an all-in-one protein to the market will create a pathway for NZ farmers to diversify into a system with a lower environmental footprint.

Canterbury-based food innovation Leaft Foods is creating an opportunity for New Zealand agriculture to lead the global plant protein market with potential to reach $US36 billion by 2024.

The food-for-climate solutions company has successfully achieved a NZ$22 million capital raise, accelerating its mission to create NZ’s first plant protein system in Canterbury.

Silicon Valley-based Khosla Ventures led the Series A investment round, with participation from Ngāi Tahu Holdings via their New Economy Mandate, ACC’s Climate Change Impact Fund and NBA Basketballer and impact investor Steven Adams.

Co-founding director John Penno says Leaft Foods attracted the attention of international and local investors, with its innovation that enables the extraction of plant protein from sustainably farmed green leaves for use in a range of foods. 

Through this system, Leaft Foods has ambitions to transform the agriculture industry for the better. 

“We think there’s a food revolution because there’s all this talk about alternative protein – we think it’s more an alternative food production system,” Penno said.

“Around the world there’s huge changes and a revolution in food production.

“Leaft foods production is about what suits NZ and fits with NZ farming systems, it’s about growing forage and feeding animals just as we farm now.

“These are systems developed around and integrated into what our NZ farmers already do well.”

Leaft Foods is currently focused on building farm systems teams to work with farmers as it develops the way to integrate crop production and feed supply in ways that help farmers lessen their impact on climate and water, while profiting from access to developing market opportunities.

“These new funds allow us to build our team to achieve this,” he said.  

The Khosla Ventures funding is not just about the money.

“It’s as much about the global connections and knowledge and Ngāi Tahu participation, with its farming, keeps us grounded locally and gives us a long-term perspective,” he said.

Founded by Penno and Maury Leyland Penno, and led by chief executive Ross Milne, the food-for-climate solutions company is developing emission reduction pathways for livestock farming via its integrated farm system producing a protein-optimised animal feed from the co-product of its protein extraction. 

With the latest round of funding the Christchurch-based company will grow its farm system, its technical and product development teams, expand research and development and enhance manufacturing capacity ahead of market launch. 

The priority has always been about getting people on the journey with them, Leyland Penno said. 

“The Leaft system could be truly transformational and that is what our investment partners are backing,” she said.

“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 NZ agriculture to lead the global plant protein market that could reach US$36 billion by 2024.”

Leaft Foods’ technology extracts Rubisco, the most abundant protein on the planet found in all green leaves. 

Rubisco has a complete amino acid profile to that of beef.

Unlike other proteins, Leaft’s protein does not require blending to manipulate the protein content or functionality.

In addition to its high digestibility, Leaft’s protein has a neutral taste and colour.

Its hypoallergenic status could be a game-changer for people sensitive to whey, soy or egg protein.

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 citing taste and environmental reasons, while also creating a pathway for NZ farmers to diversify into a system with a lower environmental footprint. 

“We have spent the past three years validating the Leaft system and proving our protein extraction technology at pilot scale,” Penno said.

“Embarking on commercialisation means creating a food system that prioritises the environment while generating an entirely new value chain,” Milne said.

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