Eclipse Foods scoops up more than $40M to invest in plant-based dairy

When Aylon Steinhart and Thomas Bowman first formed Eclipse Foods, they had big plans to truly remake plant-based dairy.

They launched their ice cream in late 2019, with the plan that their creamy dessert would first win over restaurant diners, then spread into retail and other dairy products. The pandemic spoiled those plans, leading Eclipse to change its go-to-market strategy with an early emphasis on direct-to-consumer business, leading to retail stores.

But the pivot worked, with Eclipse’s distribution increasing 2,100% year-over-year. And with pandemic-related dining restrictions falling away, foodservice is back too. Eclipse announced last week that its ice cream is the starring ingredient in the first plant-based milkshake on a nationwide restaurant chain menu at Smashburger.

Today, the company announced its more than $40 million Series B funding round. CEO Steinhart said Eclipse will use these funds to expand distribution of its ice cream, work on marketing and messaging, and invest in R&D to help it go from a plant-based ice cream company to a full-service plant-based dairy provider, with products in several different categories.

“This is Eclipse as a platform,” Steinhart said. “It’s a dairy platform for creating basically any dairy product. We’re exceptionally excited about our ice cream product that’s in market today — and there’s many other things in the pipeline.”

The funding round was led by Sozo Ventures, a firm with strong ties to Japan that Steinhart said will help Eclipse eventually expand into the Asian market. Forerunner Ventures, Initialized Capital, Gaingels and KBW Ventures also participated in this round, which Eclipse says brings 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 plant-based dairy products starting at the beginning of next year. He believes the funds could help Eclipse transform the plant-based dairy segment because its process and products are different than those of its competitors. Steinhart pointed out that nearly seven in 10 people are lactose intolerant, and Eclipse uses its technology and formula to make something that it said is more like traditional dairy than anything else plant-based.

“A lot of people are gonna say, ‘[Eating] it also felt better on my stomach. And it didn’t require any sacrifice,” Steinhart said. “And, ‘It changed the way that I thought about what plant-based means.’”

The secret sauce: Chemistry and manufacturing

Unlike other plant-based dairy companies, Eclipse didn’t start out wanting to turn a single ingredient into a dairy substitute. Instead, Steinhart said, it started out with the desire to put together a basic platform that could be used to remake many dairy products.

Eclipse’s formula blend of cassava, potato and corn is part of the secret of its success. Steinhart said it can give products a similar taste, texture and mouthfeel as dairy counterparts. The same blend works for any plant-based dairy product.

The reason this blend works so well as a stand-in for dairy goes beyond the way that the ingredients come together, Steinhart said. The blend can actually be made to behave like dairy. Casein proteins naturally organize into large clumps called micelles, which gives dairy a lot of its taste and function. Steinhart said he and Bowman realized if they could make plants form micelles, they could unlock many of the secrets of dairy.

Eclipse Foods co-founders Aylon Steinhart and Thomas Bowman.

Permission granted by Eclipse Foods founders


“And that’s exactly what we did,” Steinhart said. “We figured out a mechanical process. It’s not like expensive biotech or anything like that. It’s a mechanical process with plant components.”

Before he started Eclipse, Bowman worked at Eat Just, which was known at the time as Hampton Creek. He helped the company design its former lines of plant-based 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 scale.