Leaft Foods Secures $15M to Harness Protein From Leaves That Acts Like Animal Protein
By Lynda Kiernan-Stone, Global AgInvesting Media
Just when you think we’ve seen all there is to see in the alternative protein space, New Zealand’s Leaft Foods is taking a unique approach. After soy, almond, pea, chickpea, oat, and the myriad other plant-based sources, to cell-cultured, fermentation, and even protein created from air and electricity, it’s easy to think it’s all been done.
Leaft Foods, however, has just raised $15 million through a Series A from Kholsa Ventures, New Zealand indigenous investor Ngāi Tahu, the Climate Change Impact Fund, and NBA star Steven Adams to extract protein from the most abundant part of plants - their leaves.
Launched in 2019, company founders John and Maury Leyland Penno began by testing various protein sources in their home kitchen, eventually proving the viability of their business across New Zealand’s pasture-based agricultural economy.
Leaft explained that every plant uses ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase-oxygenase (RuBisCo) during the process of photosynthesis, making it the most widely available protein on Earth. Leaft Foods is able to extract RuBisCo resulting in a protein that acts like animal protein, with a similar amino acid profile to beef and the same digestibility, but at the same time, being allergen-free, making it an ideal alternative to soy.
Company co-founder Maury Leyland Penno noted how Leaft’s ability to reimagine how to make food could prove to be a channel for rapid decarbonization “by allowing farmers to farm in partnership with nature, creating a new approach to regenerative agriculture."
Co-founder Dr. John Penno further explained, "Nature's biggest animals - elephants, buffalo and cattle - are all herbivores who have evolved to digest protein in leaves, especially with the latter two having multiple stomachs. But while it's trapped inside a plant cell, it's hard for humans to eat enough leaves for a sufficient serving of protein, let alone digest all of that plant matter.”
Humans already are eating RuBisCo every time we eat leafy greens or spinach, for example. However, we’re not able to consume it in the quantities that Leaft Foods is able to provide. In addition, the company stated that its protein production platform carries with it a carbon footprint that is 10 times smaller per hectare compared to dairy protein, and would use only about 2 percent of the world’s current agricultural land to feed the entire global population.
"Our technology forges a new way to tap plant protein that is tasty, nutritious, scalable, and accessible for everyone. It's truly transformational."
With the capital in-hand from this round, Leaft Foods plans to build out its R&D, pursue further growth, and create a global value chain that includes a launch on the U.S. market.
"At Khosla, we are all about investing in technologies that are bold and impactful," said Alice Brooks, Khosla Ventures. "We are excited to be an early investor in Leaft and to work together with the team as they bring in a new era of agriculture and a shift in the way sustainable food is produced at scale."
Gaining pole position in the plant-based space would be an enviable achievement. In 2020, the value of the global plant-based market was $29.4 billion, but expectations are that it has the potential to account for up to 7.7 percent of the overall protein market with a value of $162 billion by 2030, according to the report, Plant-Based Foods Poised for Explosive Growth, issued by Bloomberg Intelligence in August 2021.
Once in the U.S., Leaft Foods would not be without its competition. In September 2021, a U.S.-based startup called Plantible raised $21.5 million through a Series A led by Astanor Ventures to extract RuBisCo from lemna, or duckweed.
One of the most sustainable and nutrient-dense plants in the world, yielding ten times the protein per acre of soy while requiring ten times less water, lemna is grown in a controlled environment, doubling its biomass every 48 hours with the ability to be harvested daily on a year-round basis.
“Currently available plant proteins don’t pull their weight when it comes to competing with animal-based products on taste and nutrition,” said Tony Martens, co-founder and CEO of Plantible, in September 2021. “By combining plant science, biochemistry and engineering, we are able to create drop-in replacements for these widely used animal-derived proteins without forcing consumers to sacrifice on either taste or nutrition, paving the way for an accelerated transition towards a healthier planet.”
- Lynda Kiernan-Stone is editor with GAI Media, and is managing editor and daily contributor for Global AgInvesting’s AgInvesting Weekly News and Agtech Intel News, as well as HighQuest Group’s Unconventional Ag. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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