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Launch Lessons: Eclipse Foods

Welcome to Launch Lessons: our series featuring Squarespace entrepreneurs who have built their own businesses through sheer persistence, problem-solving, and passion. These founders are sharing their stories with the next generation of aspiring entrepreneurs with big ideas. If you believe in something, launch it.

With a focus on sustainability, Eclipse Foods co-founder Aylon Steinhart set out to create a vegan ice cream that didn’t just taste good. He also wanted it to do good for the planet. As an expert in the alternative protein industry and a leader in the food innovation space, Aylon worked with a renowned chef to create a product that did just that. Squarespace had the opportunity to speak with Aylon about his journey from cool idea to sweet launch.

SQUARESPACE: What did you find most challenging about the launch of your website or business?

AYLON STEINHART: The most difficult thing about starting our business is that we are changing people’s behavior around something that is incredibly intimate, personal, and emotional: food. Getting people to change their behavior based on years of food choices and overcoming the stigma that exists around the taste and texture of plant-based foods was not an easy task.

What we knew from our work in the alternative protein space, however, is that mainstream consumers would be happy to switch their animal-based products to plant-based ones as long as the switch doesn't require a sacrifice in taste, texture, price or availability. It is with this understanding that we created Eclipse, to provide 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 enables Eclipse to drive such personal behavior change comes down to 4 things:

1. 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. 

2. 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 in a plant-based 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.

3. 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.

4. Chef-Crafted and Loved: An award-winning chef that has worked in many top-tier restaurants, our co-founder 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. With 21 chef partnerships and growing, we are the first plant-based dairy company to partner with such an incredible caliber of chefs.

What all of this really culminates in is that Eclipse is the first ever true dairy replacement (vs. a dairy substitute). In dairy, there are many substitutes (oat milk, cashew cheese, soy ice cream) but Eclipse has created the first ever true dairy replacement. This replacement enables the behavior change we truly need in this world. 

SQSP: When did you know you were ready to launch your business?

AS: From a young age, I considered myself a nature lover, animal lover, and eventually an environmentalist. After learning that industrial animal agriculture is responsible for 90% of the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and causes more climate change than all of transportation combined, I realized that I couldn’t continue to think of myself as an environmentalist and still eat animal products. I changed to a plant-based diet that same day. 

Prior to founding Eclipse, I was a software entrepreneur turned vegan advocate. I helped start the innovation department of a leading non-profit in the alternative protein space. There, I incubated dozens of plant-based startups and encouraged the brightest minds to start plant-based companies, speaking on the future of food at top universities. 

My co-founder 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.

SQSP: Was there a moment - before or after going live - when you had to shift your game plan? How did you navigate that change?

AS: Before the pandemic, Eclipse was focused almost exclusively selling in 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 1) what can Eclipse do to support our foodservice partners and the industry at large and 2) how can Eclipse retool our strategy to make our product available in additional channels to complement foodservice.

1) The answer to what Eclipse could do to support foodservice led us to two paths. 

First, we continued partnering with amazing foodservice operators to help drive lots of attention to their brands and new customers to their business. 

Second, we could support foodservice by creating a campaign to donate proceeds to restaurant support funds and other non-profits, which is exactly what we did. In the past few months, we have had the honor of partnering with some of the most acclaimed chefs in the world to create exclusive limited-time collaboration pints with all proceeds going to support the restaurant industry and other important non-profits.

2) The pandemic’s impact on foodservice also led us to retool our strategy to make our product available to consumers in additional channels. We quickly expanded to two new channels: direct-to-consumer and grocery stores. In doing so, we gave consumers the ability to order Eclipse directly to their door or to find Eclipse at their local grocery store so they could experience our indistinguishable, cowlessly creamy ice cream anywhere they chose. 

Our direct-to-consumer channel (shop.eclipsefoods.com) has been an incredible success. While setting up a direct to consumer channel for a frozen product had its challenges, from maintaining our commitment to sustainable packaging to ensuring that product arrives perfect and cold, we were able to execute efficiently to create an incredible customer experience with customers telling us they were “immensely impressed by [our] product.” We also launched our chef collaboration flavors on the website and they sold out in a matter of days. We are incredibly grateful to all of the people from all across the nation who have been early supporters of our online store.

Our grocery channel has been 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 faster (per store per week) than the best-selling plant-based ice cream at a top grocery retailer. We are seeing volumes go up every week and more and more stores are coming on-board. We’re excited to bring our groundbreaking ice cream to consumers all over the nation. 

Eclipse Foods

SQSP: What’s one piece of advice you would like to share with aspiring entrepreneurs?

AS: 1. Stay focused. When Eclipse first had our big technological breakthrough and our milk started functioning like cow’s milk, we suddenly went from being extremely focused on one thing (creating the functional milk) to having many possible paths forward. With our milk functioning like cow’s milk, we could create nearly any dairy product we could dream of. Initially, we were thrilled at the possibility and we created dozens of different products — cheeses, creams, ice creams, and more. 

However, while this was exciting from a technological and capability perspective, it was actually counterproductive to the progress of our business. We were still a small team with limited resources and a lot of work to do, so the best thing we could do was stay focused and do one thing really well rather than try to do everything at once. 

We did just that, focusing on creating the best ice cream ever made, plant-based or not. The decision was the right one and the results have been phenomenal.  

2. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. This advice is commonly heard but easily ignored. At a startup, there is always something on fire. It can be tempting to throw all work-life balance out of the window (and sometimes it is necessary) but that is not a sustainable way to grow the next massive iconic food company. A more sustainable way to grow is combining sprints with more steady marathon-style progress towards your goals. 

For example, preparing for meetings with investors  was definitely a sprint. Once our seed  round was closed, we were able to return to a more sustainable pace for growing the company and making progress towards our goals. If we had kept going at that pace, we would not have been able to sustain Eclipse’s growth to launch nationwide just a few months later. 

3. Perfect is the enemy of good. Whenever I am faced with a challenging problem that I am not an expert in solving (nearly every day) I remind myself that progress is more valuable than perfection. The alternative is getting in your own way, throttling your progress and growth because you don’t want to make mistakes. An example of this is when we made our first hire for Eclipse. At such an early stage of the company, we didn’t really know what exact skills and capabilities we needed from our first hire. What we knew is that we needed help, fast! Around that same time, our first press article came out and an industry contact reached out to me asking if I’d be open to connecting with a recent college hire who was interested in working at Eclipse. I took the call and was really impressed by the drive, knowledge, and dedication of our first-ever candidate. It simply felt right, and we ended up making an offer to our first employee just a few days later. 

While my understanding of what we needed from our first hire was not perfect at the time, I knew that moving forward and continuing to make progress was far more important than being perfect. 

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