Damien O’Connor, the minister who earlier this year distinguished himself by telling the Australian government to show more “respect” in its dealings with China, has at last won a battle in Cabinet. He got his colleagues, some of whom are always reluctant to do anything to help the country’s primary industries and farmers, to agree to support a new programme to lead New Zealand’s plant protein sector development.
The government is partnering with Lincoln-based Leaft Foods on a $20m research and development programme that could put NZ on the map as a leading leaf protein concentrate producer.
Through its Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures fund, the Ministry for Primary Industries is contributing $8m to the five-year programme to develop technology that extracts edible protein from NZ grown green leafy crops.
Leaft Foods’ technology will be used to produce high-quality protein in the form of gels or powders that can be used in a range of foods in the fast-growing global market for plant proteins.
The plant-based protein start-up will also produce an animal feed that is optimised for ruminant nutrition and has the potential to lower nitrogen losses and emissions on-farm: a vital step in the battle against global warming. O’Connor says a growing number of global food manufacturers and consumers are demanding that their proteins come from a sustainable source.
“This could be a game-changer for pastoral enterprises seeking to take environmental leadership, by providing them with a low impact, locally sourced feed, and the opportunity to diversify into low emission farm systems”.
Leaft Foods’ programme aims to build on NZ’s reputation as a trusted exporter of high-quality protein, while reducing the environmental impact of agricultural systems. It aims to meet the increase in demand for plant proteins in a way that aligns with changing consumer values.
O’Connor points out Leaft Foods is building a world-class team of experts to develop the technology.
“We’re thrilled to be assisting them to expand and progress their successful laboratory and technical proof-of-concept trials.
“This programme is a great example of the types of innovation and value-add we’re calling for through our food and fibre sector roadmap, Fit for a Better World – Accelerating our economic potential.”
Leaft Foods, founded by Dr John Leyland Penno and Maury Leyland Penno, was launched in August 2019.
Penno co-founded and led the Synlait Group from 2000 to 2018 and continues to contribute to the governance of the company as a board appointed director.
John chairs The Pure Food Company, and is on the board of Leaft Foods. He is also chairing the Fresh Water Leaders Group for the Ministers of the Environment and Primary Industries.
Before founding Synlait John had a successful career as a scientist with a focus on dairy farming innovation.
Maury Penno is on the board of Genesis Energy, chairs Wangapeka River Hops and is on the board of Leaft Foods, The Pure Food Company, Trust Codes and Matrex. She is also chair of The Education Hub, a non-profit organisation focused on bridging the gap between research and practice in school level education.
Maury has been a director of Spark New Zealand and Transpower New Zealand and was on the Lincoln University Transformation Board. She was a senior executive at Fonterra from 2005, most recently stepping down as managing director people, culture and strategy in April 2016.