How Leaft Foods turns green plants into a protein nutritionally similar to beef

The New Zealand company founded by two former dairy execs recently raised $15 million to bring its concentrated rubisco powder to the U.S. next year.


Megan Poinski, FoodDive

May 12, 2022


John Penno and his wife Maury Leyland Penno realized about six years ago that it was time to dedicate their lives to something that’s better for the environment.


It was a major life decision for the pair, who were both executives in New Zealand’s dairy industry. John Penno had co-founded dairy nutritional company Synlait, and Maury Leyland Penno was an executive at Fonterra. They wanted to take their knowledge and passions — as well as their agriculture-focused viewpoint from their home country of New Zealand — into the alternative proteins space. But they weren’t sure just what their venture would be. After all, there were many players in plant-based protein, and it seemed unlikely that they would be able to break into the crowded soy or pea ingredients space.


Then Maury Leland Penno took her husband to a hackathon. They listened to a researcher talk about a project from the 1980s that dealt with leafy greens. And that got them both thinking.


“Leafy crops are very, very productive, these perennial plants,” John Penno said. “You mow them off and they just keep coming back with the light. And the protein production in that leafy cropping system is enormous. It’s a very, very efficient way of harvesting sunlight, water and nutrients and producing protein and carbohydrates and all the other things you want to produce.”


The substance that makes leafy greens such a life force is a protein known as rubisco...


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