Leaft Team

Our Story

In 2016, John and Maury Leyland Penno began to test several ideas with the potential to transform primary industry in New Zealand. 

Maury had been experimenting in her own kitchen with the concept of a plant based protein. This lead to the decision that together, Maury and John would create something that was their own, and leave behind a legacy that would benefit New Zealand and the food industry.

By 2017, the concept of leaf protein entered the work programme based on knowledge and developments in the protein concentrate ingredients market, New Zealand agriculture’s environmental challenges, and the extensive body of scientific literature on leaf protein extraction. 2018 saw early stage feasibility undertaken and in 2019 Leaft Foods was incorporated.

Our Team

Dr John Penno
Director, Okuora and Leaft Foods

John co-founded and led the Synlait Group from 2000 until 2018. He 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. John is also chairing the Fresh Water Leaders Group for the Ministers of the Environment and Primary Industries.

Prior to founding Synlait John had a successful career as a scientist with a focus on dairy farming innovation.

Maury Leyland Penno

Maury Leyland Penno
Director, Okuora and Leaft Foods

Maury 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. She is a Te Hono alumni and sits on the the steering committee.

Maury has previously been a director of Spark New Zealand and Transpower New Zealand and was on the Lincoln University Transformation Board. Maury was a senior executive at Fonterra from 2005, most recently stepping down as managing director people, culture and strategy in April 2016. 

Ross Milne

Ross is the General Manager of Leaft Foods and is responsible for developing the compelling and competitive leaf protein-based solution to address the challenges that New Zealand’s food and fibre sector are facing. Ross brought together knowledge from New Zealand’s research institutes, Universities and world-leading experts to ensure Leaft Foods was successful from concept through to delivery. 

Rhys Denny

As Head of Sales and Marketing, Rhys brings with him a depth of experience, building up global food and beverage brands in Europe and Asia-Pacific for companies like Nuchev, Carlsberg, GSK and Fonterra.

Niki-Lee Francis

Niki is the Finance Manager for Okuora Holdings Ltd, Okuora Farms Ltd and Leaft Foods Ltd, looking after the day to day operations and provides governance support to a range of companies across New Zealand through Okuora.


Nicola Wilson

Nicola is the Food Technologist at Leaft Foods, leading our new product creation from market identification, ideation, lab testing, validation, factory trials through to commercialisation. With technical oversight across the business, Nicola is looking beyond the normal to find the extraordinary.

Dr Anne Gordon

Anne is the Process Technologist at Leaft Foods, leading researchers in the lab and working with pilot equipment to develop processes required for extraction and isolation methods of proteins and other compounds.

Sonja Vreugdenhil

Sonja is the Farm Systems Technician at Leaft Foods, focused on developing new farming systems that incorporate over new crops and feed products, and quantifying these benefits with their overall environmental impact.

Marissa Law

Marissa joined the team as Graduate Process Technologist after successfully completing a summer internship with Leaft Foods through the Callaghan Innovation R&D Experience program. Marissa's work is focused on develop processes required for extraction and isolation methods of proteins and other compounds.

Lana Kennett

Lana's focus at Leaft Foods is on communications and project assistance. She recently spent almost three years working as an operations manager in a smart mobility start-up in Germany. Prior to that, Lana spent time working in the primary sector after graduating with a Bachelor of Agriculture from Lincoln University and a Postgraduate Diploma in Marketing from the University of Waikato.

Dr Gregory Baxter Parker

Having a mind for science from a young age, Greg has a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Canterbury looking at how molecular biomarkers can better the understanding of inflammation in human health. Between his undergraduate and postgraduate studies, Greg spent time researching the bioactive properties and extraction potential of kiwifruit proteins.

Leaft Foods Ltd is a subsidiary of Okuora Holdings Limited, an active investment company that focuses on early-stage growth companies with a motivation towards sustainable agriculture and future foods. Okuora Holdings Ltd is jointly owned and run by Dr John Penno and Ms Maury Leyland Penno.  

We are doing exciting things. Learn more below.