It’s uncharted territory, but unfazed, Leaft Foods took on producing the world’s first leaf protein concentrate. By their side throughout the development process, Callaghan Innovation.
- In the face of different global trends, Leaft Foods looked to develop a high-value, sustainable leaf protein concentrate which has a lighter environmental footprint than alternative products.
- A range of support from Callaghan Innovation and the New Zealand Food Innovation Network hubs has accelerated the business’ R&D journey.
- After already producing a high-protein concentrate powder at lab scale, Leaft Foods is looking to produce it at pilot-plant scale before moving onto a commercial-sized facility.
The reality is we would not have got to where we are today – that’s the advantage of the New Zealand Food Innovation Network system. It’s been a full solution without us having to invest many millions of dollars in the early stages.
- Ross Milne, General Manager, Leaft Foods
Across Aotearoa are green pastures. Green pastures that are typically used for more prominent industries like farming. But for Leaft Foods, it was these pastures that they saw potential, with global trends towards plant-based diets and environmental awareness and impact driving thinking.
Leaft Foods set out to create a high-value sustainable leaf protein concentrate which has a lighter environmental footprint than alternative products.
“There’s a lot of research being carried out around plant proteins, particularly in Europe, and if New Zealand wants to be a part of this journey - especially if we want to lead it - we need to move fast,” says Ross Milne, Leaft Food’s General Manager.
Moving fast has meant engaging with Callaghan Innovation, with support coming in a number of ways.
Leaft Foods received funding from Callaghan Innovation to support R&D work, and tapped into our Research and Development Solutions services, working with protein scientists on how best to extract the protein while maintaining quality and functionality.
Callaghan Innovation’s support, says Milne, has been critical.
“We’ve worked with a number of Callaghan Innovation’s scientists and been very impressed with the experts’ capabilities. The ability to work with them, and to access Callaghan Innovation funding in the early days, has enabled us to progress quickly and to the stage we’re at now, where we’re a serious contender in the plant protein space.”
As well, since 2019, Leaft Foods has drawn upon a range of expertise from the New Zealand Food Innovation Network, in particular FoodSouth, a South Island hub focussed on scale-up support for food and beverage companies.
FoodSouth has helped the company connect with universities and research organisations, later helping to prove the initial concept to secure further funding. Practically, Leaft Foods has been able to use machinery and key pieces of equipment in a ‘try before you buy’ manner, critically providing the team with the experience and resources needed to get off the ground.
“The reality is we would not have got to where we are today – that’s the advantage of the New Zealand Food Innovation Network system. It’s been a full solution without us having to invest many millions of dollars in the early stages,” says Milne.
The work Leaft Foods is doing is very high risk, but Milne is confident that after all the work alongside Callaghan Innovation and the New Zealand Food Innovation Network, Leaft is confidently moving in the right direction.
So far, the business has been able to take green leaf material and produce a white high-protein concentrate powder at lab scale - even producing a pavlova with the results. It’s now working on producing the powder at pilot-plant scale, before it can move on to a commercial-sized facility.
Alongside developing innovative plant-based food products, says Milne, Leaft Foods is also developing a business model that helps existing farming systems become more sustainable. Given Callaghan Innovation’s commitment to helping develop a globally competitive CleanTech ecosystem in New Zealand, an alignment is a no-brainer.
Paul Hamilton, a Callaghan Innovation Food and Beverage Business Innovation Advisor who works alongside Leaft Foods, says the economic modelling of its circular business model has been an important part of the business’ R&D journey.
“The whole model has to hit a price point where it's feasible to scale. They're a very switched-on team, and if they can make it work there’s a huge global opportunity.”
Milne agrees there’s substantial CleanTech opportunity ahead for the company – and the country.
“The vision I see for New Zealand is that we develop this ‘green glow’ of knowledge around extracting valuable compounds out of plant material. I see Leaft Foods as a frontrunner in that, and as we’re pushing innovation in this space, I hope other organisations will join us on the journey,” says Milne.