Dr John Penno & Maury Leyland Penno
Maury and John met at a Stanford University innovation boot camp. Immersed in future ideas, it sparked them to think about what their role was in the future of food. Until then, they had both dedicated their early careers to building and leading great businesses, with Maury starting out as an engineer for Team New Zealand then as a strategy consultant for BCG and an executive for Fonterra; and John firstly as an agricultural scientist, then as the co-founder and CEO of Synlait Milk, a sustainability-focused dairy company. Stepping away from corporate life, together they embarked on what was to be their true life’s work – transforming food.
What started as a staunch desire to help livestock farmers transition into lower impact food production, the idea for Leaft Foods was a fortuitous play on their Kiwi roots – a country known for its sweeping green landscapes…and all of it containing protein, specifically Rubisco, the most abundant protein on the planet.
Combining their business, engineering and scientific talents, Maury and John explored whether this idea of getting protein from green leaves was even possible. They learned enough to believe it could work, so since 2019, they’ve been focused on building a team and an ecosystem of people driven by the same values, turning the idea into a reality.
In 2019 when John and Maury invited Ross to join them in building Leaft Foods, Ross had just started his own plant-based journey. Even though Ross spent his career designing and building some of the world’s largest food factories for GEA, it was conversations with friends about alternatives like electric vehicles and plant protein that moved him to spend the next chapter in his career building something meaningful.
With an extensive background in engineering project management and team building, what stands out about Ross is his sheer determination to create new ways of making food that is better for people’s health and better for the state of the planet.
Thriving on getting the best out of people, Ross is clear on the challenges ahead of Leaft Foods but his philosophy of making sure to have fun along the way fuels the ability of Ross’s team to deliver on something that could be truly transformational.
Dr Anne Gordon
As Lead Process Technologist at Leaft Foods, Anne oversees the process R&D team in developing innovative processes to extract and isolate protein from leafy greens. She thrives on the opportunity to apply science and biotechnology to solve real-world problems.
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.
Chris is our Head of Strategy & Finance. He is an experienced corporate finance and investment professional with a passion for building companies that solve big problems. Having previously worked in the Investment Banking team at Jarden and run consulting business Impact Ventures, he has acted as an adviser to some of New Zealand’s most iconic companies on capital raising, mergers and acquisitions, capital projects, and strategic initiatives. Chris is also a founding partner in the Impact Enterprise Fund (New Zealand’s first impact investing fund), has acted as an investment adviser to the NEXT Foundation and was part of the inaugural cohort of the Edmund Hillary Fellowship.
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 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.
After completing her degree in Chemical and Process Engineering, Marissa joined Leaft as a Process Technologist. Her flair for mathematical modelling and love of getting her hands on the tools gives Marissa the perfect skillset to design, develop, and test our protein extraction and purification process.
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.
Niki is the Finance Manager at Leaft Foods. Beyond her role handling our accountancy activities, Niki supports the team on administration and HR. Niki makes office life more fun, sourcing stylish and sustainable team merch, and generally being there for the team, no matter the task. Prior to working at Leaft Foods, Niki spent time in corporate finance for some of New Zealand's leading agribusiness companies.
Dr Cameron Marshall
Cameron joined our team as a Farm Systems Technician after completing his PhD in Animal Science from Lincoln University where he focused on milk urea nitrogen breeding values in dairy cows. His experience in managing research trials will progress the R&D of our protein optimised animal feed which is a critical pillar of Leaft’s integrated farm system.
We're proudly backed by impact investors in tech, agriculture, climate, and food