Our Team

We're on a mission to create a new food system

Our People

Dr John Penno & Maury Leyland Penno Founders 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.

Dr John Penno & Maury Leyland Penno

Founders

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.

Ross Milne CEO 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.

Ross Milne

CEO

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.

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.

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.

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.

Sonja Vreugdenhil Sonja is the Farm Systems Specialist at Leaft Foods, leading our development of new integrated farming systems and farm business establishment. These incorporate new protein production crops and the animal feed products we create. She also focuses on quantifying the farm system change benefits with their overall environmental impact. In 2021, Sonja completed the Kelloggs Rural Leadership Programme with a project title of “Is open source the best way to manage and share our data in New Zealand agriculture?”

Sonja Vreugdenhil

Sonja is the Farm Systems Specialist at Leaft Foods, leading our development of new integrated farming systems and farm business establishment. These incorporate new protein production crops and the animal feed products we create. She also focuses on quantifying the farm system change benefits with their overall environmental impact.

In 2021, Sonja completed the Kelloggs Rural Leadership Programme with a project title of “Is open source the best way to manage and share our data in New Zealand agriculture?”

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.

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 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.

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.

Marissa Law 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.

Marissa Law

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 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.

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.

Niki-Lee Francis 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.

Niki-Lee Francis

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.

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