Grocery store shelves, both online and in-store, are crammed with plant-based products designed to replace dairy. Oakland based Eclipse Foods doesn’t want its sustainable plant-based dairy products to be just another substitute; You want it to be so similar in taste, texture and functionality to conventional dairy that you can’t tell the difference.
Co-founders Aylon Steinhart and Thomas Bowman believe Eclipse Foods has come a long way since its beginnings in 2019. Steinhart, CEO, is an alternative protein expert who previously worked at the Good Food Institute, where he founded dozens of startups in this space. Bowman, CTO, is a James Beard nominated chef and has a background in food science. Prior to Eclipse, he was Director of R&D and Product Development at Hampton Creek, now known as Eat Just.
Steinhart told TechCrunch that many of the plant-based products meet consumer needs. The likes of Impossible and Beyond Meat are no longer simply substitutes or casual substitutes for meat, but appeal to the mainstream consumer. However, the dairy industry has yet to find the same traction among the myriad options for plant-based or lactose-free products.
“In the dairy industry, nobody has created a real substitute for dairy products, only substitutes,” he added. “That’s why we’re tackling a $500 billion dairy market. The fun fact is that 70% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant. We’ll be able to grab a lot more market share and a lot more dollars by bringing in something that everyone can tolerate. It gives consumers choices.”
The proprietary technology uses micelles, which Steinhart described as “the microscopic magic of milk,” to create the plant-based dairy substitutes that don’t sacrifice flavor, texture, or functionality.
The microscopic structures are made from the envelope protein in milk, but Eclipse has figured out how to use the mechanical process to get plants like cassava, corn and potatoes to mimic these micelles. This allows the company to make many products such as ice cream, cream cheese and butter.
The company started with ice cream and has produced soft serve, ice cream mixes, food service cups and pint flavors including Cookie Butter, Caramel Butter Pecan, Dark Side of the Spoon, Mango Passion Fruit, Vintage Vanilla and Mint Chip.
In the last 12 months, Eclipse has grown its retail presence by 2,100% and has partnered with stores such as: Whole Foods Market, Albertsons and Vons, and direct-to-consumer through Gopuff, Good Eggs and Gorillas. The ice cream is also available at dining establishments including Afters Ice Cream, LA Dodger Stadium, Original Mels and Silver Diner.
This month, the company’s ice cream mix became the basis for Smashburger’s new dairy-free milkshakes, which not only represent “the first nationwide dairy-free milkshakes in a fast-casual restaurant chain,” but also the first plant-based menu item for Smashburger. said Steinhart. You can get it at any of over 200 locations across the country.
“We’re very excited,” Steinhart said. “It’s also kind of a testament to the strategy of caring about dairy consumers because Smashburger is mainstream. Consumers who dine at Smashburger aren’t necessarily people who regularly seek replacements. I’ve tried both side by side and couldn’t tell which is which, so we think there’s a future where chains will say, ‘Why do we need dairy when it tastes just as good and appeals to a lot more people?’ ”
That global market for dairy alternatives is projected to be a $50 billion business by 2028, and Eclipse is one of many startups entering the sector with different approaches. In addition to the dairy industry itself, Steinhart believes that companies like Oatly are a key competitor because its products span different product categories like milk and yogurt.
Others are also striving for the ice cream space and receiving financial support as well. The Urgent Company has their Coolhaus product made from plant based ice cream. Late last year, Swedish food tech company N!ck raised $100 million for its ice cream product. In the meantime, Brown Foods took in just over $2 million to scale up its alternative dairy technology.
Eclipse aims to go beyond ice cream, and a new $40 million Series B funding round closed this week will spur that growth in both retail and hospitality, and its research and speed up development so it can create more products.
The round was led by Sozo Ventures with participation from Forerunner Ventures, Initialized Capital and Gaingels. The company is now valued “in the hundreds of millions” and puts total funding to date at over $60 million, Steinhart said.
Eclipse has experienced triple-digit revenue growth year over year, and new partnerships are coming online every month.
The new funding allows the company to expand its 45-strong team, including 25 full-time employees, develop some go-to-market strategies and move its R&D to a place where it can scale different products. The company is now able to scale rapidly as it processes its products on traditional dairy lines in a “plug and play” approach that does not require the introduction of new equipment.
“Brand trust is so important because the data shows that the number one reason people avoid plant-based dairy today is because of the taste,” Steinhart said. “Some people don’t really trust plant-based dairy. What Thomas and I set out to do, and I think we’ve achieved, is to create ice cream that’s some of the best ice cream anyone’s ever had, plant-based or not. That way they will next entrust us with their cheese or yoghurt.”
Eclipse Foods isn’t out to substitute dairy — it’s on a mission to replace it – TechCrunch Source link Eclipse Foods isn’t out to substitute dairy — it’s on a mission to replace it – TechCrunch