We have been reporting about Eclipse Ice Cream since early 2019 and since then there has been an influx of news from this startup which makes plant-based dairy that is “indistinguishable from conventional dairy”. Most recently, Eclipse secured $12M in Series A funding round from investors including Beyond Meat’s Seth Goldman.
CEO Aylon Steinhart has spoken regularly on food innovation at Harvard, MIT, Yale, Berkeley, and Stanford and has advised companies such as Kraft Heinz, Nestle, and Kellogg’s, as well as working for The Good Food Institute.
Aylon kindly took some time to talk ice cream!
Tell us about the origin of Eclipse and a little about your mission.
My cofounder and I came together from very different backgrounds to start Eclipse in order to accomplish a shared mission- to create a more sustainable, healthy, and humane food system by providing people plant-based products that require no sacrifice.
Prior to founding Eclipse, I was a software entrepreneur turned vegan advocate. I decided to leave software because I saw the massive opportunity to make a positive impact on the world through fixing our broken food system.
My cofounder Thomas was an award-winning chef turned world-renowned product developer. Thomas chef’d or staged at Michelin Starred restaurants, was twice nominated James Beard Rising Star Chef, and was named Zagat 30 under 30. He then served as the Director of Product Development at Hampton Creek (JUST) where he created some of the best-selling plant-based products in the world, including JUST Mayo, Cookies, and Dressings. Thomas has a degree from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America
Thomas and I joined forces because we believe the best way to create a more sustainable, healthy, and ethical food system is by giving consumers plant-based products that don’t require any sacrifice on taste, texture, or functionality, ever. And that’s exactly what we are doing at Eclipse
Where do you see your advantage over multinational companies?
Thomas and I started Eclipse to change the food system, for good. Today, many of the default options for our food (meat, dairy, eggs) are produced through industrial animal agriculture, or factory farming. Factory farming is destroying the planet, hurting animals, and making people sick. Virtually all multinational food companies are involved in this system, so from the very start, the mission and drive for Eclipse (and how it connects with consumers) is far more genuine and real.
Thomas is one of the world’s experts in functional plant proteins and we have a deep understanding of our consumers, so we created Eclipse to provide the world incredibly delicious and affordable plant-based dairy products that are indistinguishable from conventional dairy, thus making the sustainable, healthy, and humane choice the default choice. This is how we disrupt the status quo and change the world.
But what makes Eclipse uniquely disruptive beyond other companies comes down to four things:
- Taste (first and foremost): Our products are the first plant-based dairy products ever that actually taste, feel, and function just like dairy. This means unbelievably creamy ice cream, super melty and delicious cheese, and many more indulgences. We use our base (milk) to create nearly any dairy product that is indistinguishable from its animal counterpart. In a blind taste-test conducted by a UC Berkeley professor, 77% of people said Eclipse is creamier than the best-selling dairy ice cream in the US.
- Technology: While our ice cream was created in a kitchen, not a lab, we’ve discovered a blend of plants and a revolutionary process that allows us to unlock the magic of milk, for the first time ever. We are able to create indistinguishable dairy products from plants because we’ve discovered microscopic structures called micelles that allow dairy milk to turn from liquid (milk) to semi-solid (cream) to solid (cheese). Recreating these micelles in our milk, we are able to create 100% plant-based, non-GMO, and chef-crafted products that are more similar to dairy than anything ever before.
- Nutrition: Our products are equivalent to dairy products in terms of protein and calcium, but have almost no cholesterol or saturated fat that are found in conventional dairy. Unlike many others, our base is free from the top common allergens (no nuts, soy, wheat, etc.) and is always non-GMO.
- Chef-Crafted and Loved: Eclipse is the first plant-based dairy brand created by a world-renowned chef. An award-winning chef that has worked in Michelin Star restaurants, our co-founder Thomas masterfully created Eclipse’s products in a kitchen, where all of the best food comes from. Since then, we’ve partnered with some of the most acclaimed chefs in the world, including Michael Tusk of Quince (3 Michelin Stars) and Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette of Little Donkey (James Beard Award winners). With 21 chef partnerships and growing, we are the first plant-based dairy company to partner with such an incredible calibre of chefs.
What all of this really culminates to is that Eclipse is the first ever true dairy replacement (vs. a dairy substitute). In the burger world, substitutes are things like black-bean burgers, while true replacements are things like the Beyond Burger. In dairy, there are many substitutes (oat milk, cashew cheese, soy ice cream) but Eclipse has created the first ever true dairy replacement.
Where do you plan to use the recently raised $12 in investment funds – What is your expansion strategy and are you already looking at new markets?
Our plan for 2021 is all about expanding the availability of Eclipse. That means our funds will go to hiring, producing and selling our products, and growing our brand. Expect to see Eclipse in many more locations in the coming months!
Before the pandemic, Eclipse was focused almost exclusively on foodservice- restaurants, ice cream shops, burger chains, universities, etc. The reception in the foodservice world was astounding- just weeks after Eclipse publicly launched, we had hundreds of businesses asking to put Eclipse on their menus. Sadly, the pandemic hit the foodservice industry hard with many of these businesses shifting their focus on their internal operations. This shift caused us to take a step back and ask how Eclipse can retool our strategy to make our product available in additional channels to allow consumers to try and enjoy our cowlessly creamy ice cream.
We also launched into grocery, which has been really exciting as well. While getting started in grocery required some heavy lifting, including designing pints that would pop on freezer shelves and figuring out frozen distribution, the reception from buyers and consumers has been phenomenal. Since launching just a few months ago in the Bay Area, our ice cream pints are selling over 8x faster (per store per week) than the average plant-based ice cream in the market. We are seeing more and more stores coming on-board as the excitement builds. We’re thrilled to bring our groundbreaking ice cream to consumers all over the nation.
Give us an insight into your revolutionary liquid ice cream base – how can restaurants and ice cream shops use it and what is it made of?
Eclipse has created the first-ever plant-based liquid ice cream base that functions just like a dairy base. Our base comes in three core flavors- plain, vanilla, and chocolate, and can spin up in any type of ice cream machine, including soft serve machines, Emery Thompsons, Pacojets, gelato machines, and even on dry ice. The vanilla and chocolate are also available in pre-frozen tubs. What this means is that the base can be used by various different businesses, including ice cream shops, chefs, who can use the plain base just as they would a dairy base to create their own creamy, indulgent plant-based ice cream with whatever inclusions they want.
Chain restaurants, universities, stadiums, and more: many different operators can use the vanilla and chocolate base to spin up rich and creamy soft serve just like they would dairy soft serve or even for milkshakes and other delicious desserts. For operators seeking out ready-to-scoop ice cream, Eclipse also offers pre-frozen tubs.
What new products can we expect in 2021 – are there any existing plans you would like to share?
In addition to the incredible (and sometimes surprising!) creations that our foodservice partners continue to make using Eclipse’s liquid base, you can expect to see some incredible new flavors of Eclipse’s cowlessly creamy plant-based ice cream pints. These flavors are truly phenomenal and, according to blind taste tests, a huge step up from anything in the market today. Keep an eye out on shop.eclipsefoods.com and your local grocery store shelves and foodservice operators. We’re excited for you to try them!