Eclipse Foods raises more than $40 million to invest in plant-based dairy

When Elon Steinhardt and Thomas Bowman first founded Eclipse Foods, they had big plans to reinvent truly plant-based dairy.

They launched ice cream in late 2019, with a plan that the creamy dessert would first win over diners, then spread to retail and other dairy products. Those plans were spoiled by the pandemic, prompting Eclipse to shift its go-to-market strategy with an early focus on direct-to-consumer business, leading to retail stores.

But the pivot worked, with Eclipse’s distribution increasing 2100% year over year. And with the pandemic-related eating restrictions waning, food services are back, too. Eclipse announced last week that ice cream is the main ingredient in the first vegan milkshake on the menu of a nationwide chain of restaurants in Smashburger.

The company today announced a Series B funding round of more than $40 million. CEO Steinhart said Eclipse will use the money to expand its ice cream distribution, work on marketing and messaging, and invest in research and development to help it transition from a vegan ice cream company to a full-service vegan dairy provider, with products in several different categories.

“This is an eclipse as a platform,” Steinhardt said. “It’s a dairy platform to create basically any dairy product. We’re exceptionally excited about the ice cream product we’re bringing to the market today – and there are many more things in the pipeline.”

The funding round was led by Sozo Ventures, a company with strong ties to Japan that Steinhart said would eventually help Eclipse expand into the Asian market. Forerunner Ventures, Initialized Capital, Gaingels and KBW Ventures also participated in the round, which Eclipse says is increasing its lifetime funding to more than $60 million.

Steinhart said that while Eclipse is still building its name as an ice cream brand, the company plans to launch completely different vegan dairy products starting early next year. He believes the money can help Eclipse transform the vegan dairy sector because its operations and products are different from those of its competitors. Steinhart noted that nearly seven in 10 people are lactose intolerant, and Eclipse uses his technology and formula to make something he said looks more like traditional dairy than anything else vegan.

“A lot of people will say,”[Eating] I also felt better in my stomach. “It didn’t take any sacrifice,” Steinhardt said. and “It changed the way I thought about plant-based meaning.” “

The Secret Sauce: Chemistry and Manufacturing

Unlike other vegan dairy companies, Eclipse didn’t start with wanting to turn a single ingredient into a dairy alternative. Instead, Steinhardt said, it started with a desire to create a basic platform that could be used to recreate many dairy products.

Eclipse’s blend of cassava, potato and corn is part of the secret to its success. Steinhart He said it can give the products a similar taste, texture and mouthfeel to their dairy counterparts. The same blend works with any vegan dairy product.

Steinhart said the reason this blend works so well as a dairy alternative is beyond the way the ingredients come together. This mixture can actually be made to act like dairy products. Casein proteins are naturally organized into large clumps called micelles, which give dairy products much of their flavor and function. Steinhart said he and Bowman realized that if they could make plants out of micelles, they could unlock many dairy secrets.

Eclipse Foods founders Elon Steinhardt and Thomas Bowman.

Permission granted by the founders of Eclipse Foods

“And that’s exactly what we did,” Steinhardt said. “We discovered a mechanical process. It’s not like expensive biotechnology or anything like that. It’s a mechanical process using factory components.”

Before starting Eclipse, Bowman worked at Eat Just, which at the time was known as Hampton Creek. He helped the company design its previous lines of vegan mayonnaise and dressings, as well as cookie dough. Bowman had experience using plant protein to make something completely different, and working with it so it could be expanded.

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