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Khosla bulks up plant protein startup with $15M

Apr 7, 2022
Illustration of a muscular arm holding a bunch of kale.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Leaft Foods, a plant-based protein maker out of New Zealand, raised $15 million in Series A funding led by Khosla Ventures, the company tells Axios exclusively.

Why it matters: Khosla Ventures' position as a leading force in biotech could expand to dominate the nascent but growing alternative protein industry.

Driving the news: Leaft Foods' $15 million Series A funding is the startup's first time taking on outside capital, save for government grants.

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

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

  • Leaft makes a sort of "juice" out of the plants, processes the juice to remove individual components and dries the protein into powder that is packaged for direct consumer sales.

State of play: Protein powders have traditionally been sourced from beef components and have a large corresponding carbon footprint.

Yes, but: Plant-based and alternative proteins have gained popularity among users in the U.S, signaling the appetite is there for an alternative.

Between the lines: Leaft co-founder Dr. John Penno tells Axios that the startup is focusing on getting its initial protein powder product into customers' hands, but didn't shrug off working with other food manufacturers in the future to incorporate the protein into other food products.

  • "People in the food industry know about [RuBisCo] but no one has figured out how to commercialize it," Penno says.

💭 Our thought bubble: Consumers are fickle, and the supplement market is rife with snake-oil cure-alls that have left many people skeptical in trying new products. Leaft will have to deploy much of its recently raised capital to convince customers it's worth a shot.

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