The Leaf Protein Co combines science, tradition and technology to provide nutritious food and ingredients that are sustainable for the environment and the local community. We have Fern ho, the founder of The Leaf Protein Co, to share her experiences, valuable tips, and the company’s growth in this exclusive interview.
How has it been working from home?
Well, as a startup founder, my home has been my default office for a long time now. I do miss having people around me like how you would at the office.
Do you have any tips on being productive while working from home?
I am constantly adjusting the way I work. To be a successful founder, there needs to be a burning desire to achieve. For me, one thing I have learnt is valuing efficiency over productivity. It's about what's the best use of my time as we only have 24 hours a day, and that's never going to change. I always allow myself to have that downtime to be more productive and efficient when I'm working.
What is your professional background?
I am an electrical engineer by training, but I have always had a personal interest in food. My passion stems from my food intolerances, and I am a very avid ingredient reader. I have had to avoid highly processed foods or a lot of ingredients you see at grocery stores. That's what led me to work on leaf protein.
I have taken a lot of my passion from my product management and product marketing background. My Product Marketing experience makes me conscious of how we position the products that we bring to the market, with transparency being an important part. The Product Management part helps me understand the viability of the technology, new products, and consumers perspectives.
What's your perspective on balancing economic development along with environmental protection? Why is it important?
That's a great question. Our food system, from crop growing to food production, is complex. Some of the major food changes include heading towards a more plant-based diet, and also greater consumer consciousness of the impact on the environment. This certainly brings to the forefront some of the unsustainable practices we've seen in the past. I was surprised at the control that big food companies have over some of the major ingredients we eat. Often these staple crops are grown in modern culture type of settings, which harms our environment in terms of biodiversity and nutrition.
I think the balance is between price and quality. On one hand, consumers want the best quality and the lowest possible price. We need to revalue some of the food in our food system on how it's grown. In my personal view, we have unfortunately sacrificed productivity and efficiency for things like nutrition, environment, and biodiversity. We need to take a step back and think about how to grow food sustainably.
What were the challenges, and how did you overcome them?
We could not grow our plant source in Australia as it was classified as a weed. If you think about it, weed is a man-made concept - it grows in places where man doesn't want it to grow. We had done extensive research on developing a prototype protein concentrate from a Brazilian plant source.
Being unable to grow it in Australia was definitely a challenge as we are based here. We had to act on this immediately and look at our vast library of leaf sources again. That’s when we came across the Australian Saltbush, and it made sense to use plants native to the country from a sustainability angle. I'm constantly adjusting the way I work and learned the importance of being agile with every discovery to overcome obstacles. Also, it's about having the willingness to learn, adapt, and change.
What are the important qualities to run a successful company?
One of the biggest qualities is being fearless and somewhat naive. If you thought that you knew all the answers, you'd never start anything. A little bit of healthy scepticism and naivety takes you a long way. Also, the willingness to change, adapt and learn. You're constantly learning when it's your venture. However, when you come from a corporate environment, you're using someone else's time and money. It's not the same as your own business. With a startup and a small business, the expected risk is more significant.
How do you market your product with no funding?
One of the strongest ways of marketing is advocacy from other people, which is generally free. If you can convince someone else that your product is amazing, that person becomes a form of intangible marketing for you. That human element is important to position how successful your startup can be. Hence, the easiest way is to speak to as many people as you can. I am an introvert myself, so I don't naturally reach out to people. However, the times that I have reached out to people, I have always learned a new nugget or something I didn't expect. Sharing is a big part of creating that awareness.
What plans do you have for the future?
Our goal is to introduce a new category of plant protein ingredient that comes from edible green leaves. Biodiversity is one of the biggest problems concerning global food security, and unfortunately, the biodiversity of our crops and food sources have diminished over the decades. The concept of leaf protein is to use many different leaf sources across the globe to produce these edible plant protein ingredients and reintroduce biodiversity back into our food system. According to statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture organisation, despite the 6000 plant species that have been cultivated for food, there's only 9 that contribute to the 66% of global crop production, which is miniature. That lack of biodiversity has led to affecting the nutrition in our modern diet.
How can we reach out to you?
I have always had a personal passion for the food segment and food tech, and hence I am open to connecting with anyone interested in that space. The best way is to reach out to our website theleafprotein.com, or you can email me at email@example.com