Khosla Ventures invests in plant-based protein start-up Leaft Foods

Leaft Foods, a vegetable protein manufacturer of New Zealand, raised $15 million in Series A funding led by Khosla Ventures, the company tells Axios exclusively.

Why is this important: Khosla Ventures’ position as a leading force in biotechnology could expand to dominate the nascent but growing alternative protein industry.

Driving the news: Leaft Foods’ $15 million Series A funding is the first time the startup has taken on outside capital, aside from government grants.

  • Memphis Grizzlies player Steven Adams, New Zealand Tribal Fund Ngāi Tahu New Economy and ACC Climate Change Impact Fund also participated in the round. Leaft declined to divulge the valuation with the trick.

How it works: Leaft Foods makes a protein powder using RuBisCo, a protein commonly found in leafy green plants.

  • Leaft makes a kind of “juice” from the plants, processes the juice to remove the individual components, and dries the protein into a powder which is packaged for direct sale to consumers.

State of play: Protein powders traditionally come from beef components and have a correspondingly large carbon footprint.

Yes, but: Plant-based and alternative proteins have grown in popularity among users in the United States, signaling that the appetite is there for an alternative.

Between the lines: Leaft co-founder, Dr. John Penno says Axios that the startup is focused on getting its initial protein powder product into the hands of its customers, but hasn’t been shy about working with other food manufacturers in the future to incorporate the protein into other other food products.

  • “People in the food industry know [RuBisCo] but no one figured out how to market it,” says Penno.

💭 Our thought bubble: Consumers are fickle, and the supplement market is full of snake oil cure-alls that have left many people skeptical about trying new products. Leaft will need to deploy much of its recently raised capital to convince clients it’s worth it.

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