Eclipse Foods makes plant-based milk that is indistinguishable from conventional dairy, in taste, texture and functionality. Our products are made without soy, nuts, coconut, gluten, GMO’s, gums or stabilizers, making them free from all common allergens and much cleaner than other products.
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The food system is broken. Our climate is hurting. After working in the innovation department Good Food Institute, Aylon became an evangelist for the alternative protein space. He is on a mission to create a more sustainable, responsible and humane food system.
Aylon Steinhart Interview
Brandon Stover: [00:00:00] Welcome to founder Fridays on evolve. A podcast about social entrepreneurs, changing the world. I'm your host, Brandon Stover. And today we're here with founder. Ayllon Steinhardt. Now, if you're new to the show on Fridays, we feature inspiring founders from our very own involved community. The rest of the week, we have long form interviews with a variety of social impact founders, visionary leaders, and social enterprise experts.
As they share how they built startups that are solving the world's greatest challenges. To be featured on a founder Friday, you can join our Patrion community of like-minded founders that are just like you, who are changing the world. To join, go to evolve the.world/community and click the Patrion button.
Now today's featured founder is Ayllon Steinhardt co-founder and CEO of eclipse food, which makes plant-based milk that is indistinguishable from conventional dairy and tastes texture and functionality. So Alan, go ahead and introduce yourself and why eclipse foods is such a game changer for our food food system.
Aylon Steinhart: [00:00:57] Sure thing. My name is Aylon. I'm the co-founder and CEO at eclipse foods. Prior to starting eclipse, I was at the good food Institute, which is the leading non-profit in the alternative protein space. I joined there as one of the first employees to help start their innovation department. Which really meant two things.
One was running an incubator for the plant-based space, so helping other companies get funded started, go to market, et cetera. And the second was evangelizing the space. So going to basically all the top business schools, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, et cetera and medical schools in order to get the best and brightest minds to start companies that transform the food system.
So for me, it's very much been all about. That mission of creating more healthy, humane and sustainable food system. And that's why I started eclipse with Thomas. We'll give you a little bit of background on Thomas and then I'll jump into what eclipse does. Thomas, my co-founder was the director of product development at Hampton Creek, just so he was responsible for creating some of the best selling plant-based products in the world, including just Mayo, the cookies oversaw the team that did the just egg.
And then before that he was a superstar chef. So chapter stodge at a total of 16 Michelin stars around the globe. Yeah. Twice nominated James Beard, rising star chef names, I guess 30, under 30, and always in molecular gastronomy. So how do we use science to make food, do things that we never anticipated that food to do?
So this guide perfect skillset and total food genius. To do exactly what we're doing at eclipse, which is making plant-based dairy products that are in this thing, was treatable from their animal counterparts in taste texture and functionality. The, the press is sometimes called us the beyond meat or impossible foods of dairy.
And it's exactly that it's because the end product is just like dairy.
Brandon Stover: [00:02:57] What's the big problem that you guys are trying to solve with this?
Aylon Steinhart: [00:03:00] So I mentioned a little bit earlier that the mission, right. Of creating more sustainable, healthy, and humane food system. And that's really the problem that brought Thomas and I together. The problem is that industrial animal agriculture factory farming, as it's known is a really, really broken system that doesn't serve anyone.
Like none of the constituents. It doesn't serve. The planet is destroying the planet. And in fact, in according to the UN industrial animal agriculture is responsible for more climate change than all of transportation combined. I'm also responsible for 90% of the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, mass extinctions, like all these crazy things, right?
So it doesn't serve the planet. It doesn't serve people, People are in the Western world that eat the products of industrial animal agriculture, actually really sick. And excessive consumption of animal products has been shown to be linked to every single one of the top killing diseases in the West.
So obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, all of these things these risks tied to industrial animal agriculture and finally, the constituent of the animals, right? this is a system that does not work well for animals. In fact, there's 56 billion animals. That are living day-to-day lives that are so miserable that if they were dogs or cats, which are protective class of animals in the United States would actually warrant felony cruelty to animal charges.
So it's just a system that is, that is broken. It's not sustainable. And if we want to live a life where we can eat delicious things and we can enjoy the outdoors and we can live life, as we know it and we have to change that system. And so that's exactly. Why I got into the plant-based food movement because you look at plant-based foods compared to animal based foods, and we're talking fractions of the land, use fraction of the energy use fraction of the water use.
The CO2 emissions are significantly less. So those are the big problems. And we think that this is one of the best solutions for the sustainability aspect, for the health aspect, and also for the animal.
Brandon Stover: [00:05:03] What do you guys see as your unique position in your guys's solution? You mentioned, you know, beyond meats before there's quite a few people in the space. know, one aspect I see is the. Aspect of, you know, chef quality tastes, food that you were talking about before marrying this to actually get consumers to want it.
But where do you guys see your unique proposition in your solution?
Aylon Steinhart: [00:05:25] Yeah, that's a really good question. First of all, I'll kind of explain how we solve the, Effective way. Right. Which is that when we looked at beyond meat and impossible foods, what they showed us is that if you make a product that is similar enough to its animal counterpart, like very similar, in fact, then you can actually win mainstream consumers over and bring them over to eating more plant based.
and that's something that we didn't see before, but in fact, Impossible. And beyond more than 90% of their consumers are omnivores, they eat meat as well. And so we're solving the problem by doing the exact same thing in dairy. We're bringing in that massive mainstream market that today doesn't even really think about time-based dairy.
You know, milk is kind of a leader with about 40% of households. Actually having purchased plant-based milk. But the other categories of like cheese and ice cream and everything like that, very, very small household penetration. that's what we're going after. That's how we're solving the problem.
And the way we're doing it, to answer your question directly, the way we're doing it very uniquely is that we're the first ever plant-based product that actually has that taste texture and functionality.
A very. We're able to do that through a pretty miraculous invention or discovery rather. And that is creating a milk that functions like a dairy milk. And so in the same way that you would use a cow's milk to make cheese or ice cream or any other dairy product, you use eclipses milk to make those same products.
And that's what leads to that taste, texture and functionality. But what's exciting is that it's all plant based a hundred percent. It's non-GMO our base is free from all the top allergens. So it's kind of this really advanced thing, but also something very simple.
And in fact, you mentioned that the chef part we're the only plant based company that was founded in that our products were created by a Michelin Sharon's like 15 Michelin stars. Right. And so. Culinary excellence and taste is in our DNA. And that's another very exciting thing in addition to the product tasting amazing and kind of the technology behind that.
Brandon Stover: [00:07:31] I think that's a super important part. Instead of trying to make people, you know, choose to eat a plant-based diet and have to sacrifice on taste or something that they are so used to, or, you know, making ice cream a certain way or whatnot, using this certain type of milk, if you can. Basically replace a process that people are already doing with something that they love just as much or more than I think you're, you know, you're hitting a home run then.
Aylon Steinhart: [00:07:56] Yeah, that's exactly it. You have to make. Things very, very easy for people because changing behavior is hard changing what people put in their mouth, then what they eat is even harder. And so making it extremely easy and delicious is, is super important.
Brandon Stover: [00:08:13] How are you guys making revenues so far and you know, what's your attraction been?
Aylon Steinhart: [00:08:18] So the, the story of our go to market is actually. Pretty classic to the, to the times right now. So we initially went out to market through food service, which is restaurants, ice cream shop using parts, things like that. Right. And it was, it was a phenomenal go to market. Like we started by launching very much like impossible food launch with David Chang and got a lot of credibility by working with the best of the best in meat.
So we launched with comfrey Slocum on the West coast. And Oddfellows on the East coast. These are two really high-end ice cream ice cream shops, Humphry Slocombe was named a food network, top five ice creams and unfollows is founded by famous pastry chef turned ice cream wizard as they call him. And Yeah, we, we partnered with them and it was a hit, like people were really captivated by this idea of, well, it's like the plant-based ice cream that is actually tastes like ice cream. And we were on the front page of CNN and we were in print and I was a Chronicle. And we were in the wall street journal and Washington post, and we got hundreds and hundreds of businesses coming to us and saying, Hey, we want this product.
And what the product was, is this liquid base. Like an ice cream base that ice cream shops could spin up with their own flavors. And then we also had our liquid vanilla and liquid chocolate that we were selling for Saltzer. And you could also spin up an ice cream, but most people were putting in software machines.
And we had all this interest and we had all this demand and we signed on Google and it was incredible. They were increasing their orders and we signed on a bunch of big customers that I can't actually talk about. But we were just like a day away from launching with them and it was just incredibly exciting.
We're going to have a nationwide distribution. It was the whole the works. And then COVID hit, you knew this was coming. And obviously all of that just bow down to a hall pretty suddenly. And so we looked at, at our go to market and we said, look, this was obviously amazing. Like we could feel the rattling of the rocket ship taking off.
But the world has changed and we need to look at other channels. So we launched our director consumer channel which is actually on shop dot eclipse foods.com. We offer nationwide shipping. And in order to launch that channel, we did something really exciting, kind of continuing with that credibility and building that credibility and.
You know, leaning on our background, being very credible culinary people as well. And so we've partnered with some of the most highly acclaimed chefs in the nation in the world to create collaboration. Flavor is limited time only available on eclipse. So for example we have a collaboration with chef Corey Lee from venue.
That's a three Michelin star restaurant. It's a Palmieri cookie, Calvados, caramel ice cream. It's like a James Beard, a lot of ice cream made plant based. So really, really fun things we have. Yeah. Michael tusk is also three Michelin star has a three Michelin star restaurant. Yeah, some rising star chefs like tons and tons of amazing chefs.
We had 20 plus partnerships. And that obviously was a really exciting way to bring our product online to the market. And then obviously now if like many other plant-based and food companies in general, we're growing our retail and grocery footprint. right now we're in the Bay area and LA in limited locations, but that's a, that's going to be growing significantly in the next five months ahead.
And so yeah, those, those three approaches are still going strong food service. We've actually. Launched with afters ice cream there, I think 30 location ice cream shop in Southern California and the food service thing is continuing as well.
Brandon Stover: [00:12:04] In the retail locations, are you able to get shelf space close to, you know, the regular dairy products? One of the big things for like beyond meat and impossible foods is they were able to get their meats like next to the actual meat. So it's a really easy decision making making process for the consumer.
Aylon Steinhart: [00:12:22] Yeah, you're totally right. I was actually just looking at data on this before the call and it was about a 30% sales lift. Just by moving the the beyond meat product from the vegan ghetto as they call it sometimes um, and to the meat aisle. So I'm sure that data is, you know, varies a lot, but that's the data that I was looking at So the, the good news is I think for almost all plant base ice cream is that the freezer is just this continuous space. It does blend together. Like usually retailers will put based in one door and then dairy based and another door. But it, it is a lot better than, you know, the, the vegan freezer being somewhere tucked in the back and then the dairy there.
So in that respect, yeah. We've been able to do that. And the results have been excellent. We, you know, we're a new brand launching during COVID where there's no demoing. Like there's a lot of hurdles for new grads. And if anyone here is listening, that is an entrepreneur in the food space and is feeling down because it's tough to launch a new brand during COVID.
I just want to say, like, it is extremely tough. It's probably the toughest time in, in the recent history because there's no demos and retailers are. kind of bunkering down and things like that. So anyways, with all that being said we've actually been able to see velocities that are incredible.
our number one, selling skew is actually selling better in our kind of flagship retailers. Then the number one selling plant-based ice cream at whole foods. Which is amazing. And actually it turns out that that is the number one selling plant-based ice cream pint at whole foods is actually the number one ice cream at whole foods.
So our product is performing better than the number one ice cream at whole foods, which is siding. Yeah. And our average velocity is across the board are also super, super strong, stronger than the average plant-based in whole foods. And again, this is a brand new grant, so it looks very promising.
Brandon Stover: [00:14:25] Very nice. Well uh, what's the biggest struggle that you were having? I mean, obviously we've talked about COVID, but inside of your startup or as a founder,
Aylon Steinhart: [00:14:33] Yeah. Our culture at eclipse is extremely people first and we really care about each other. We're extremely supportive. It truly is like the best part aside from maybe working on the mission, which is just incredible. The best part of like the organization is just it's our people. If the team is like the comradery and honestly the support that we give each other and all these things.
And one of the, one of the toughest things for me is as a leader of an early stage startup, where the team is so important, it's such an edge is how do we continue to harness that energy in a time where we can't see each other and it's all over video. And by the time that by the time that the week is, is through right.
Everyone's zoomed out. Like no one wants to get another zoom call just to, to, you know, have a beer in front of a screen. that's been one of the biggest challenges is how do we continue this momentum? Yeah. Of camaraderie and culture building, especially when we've onboarded a lot of people during COVID.
And so there's a lot of people who have literally never met a single person. At their company in person. And we have to somehow overcome that and build relationships and build friendships yeah, in this unprecedented, these unprecedented time. So that's been a challenge. But I mean, all the results from our internal surveys are showing that we're doing a good job.
It's just, it requires effort and a lot of intention.
Brandon Stover: [00:16:05] Just quick examples of some of the stuff that you're doing to kind of overcome that challenge.
Aylon Steinhart: [00:16:10] Yeah, that's a good question. So one of them is, the zoom calls, even though people are over zoomed. So we had a friends getting party. We do regular happy hours. We set aside time for people to just drop in if they need to check in on anything. Right. I think that's, that's one kind of more structured thing.
The other thing is within our culture, we we've established that all doors are open always. we have a Slack channel. People can message each other. People can message me if they have any concerns. Those have been good things. I mean, we've also had some sort of like creative company specific things.
So we sent everyone just a random gift. That is, I think, particular to, you know, their interests and things like that. So those are some of the examples but I think there is, yeah, there's always, there's always ways to improve.
Brandon Stover: [00:17:01] Well, where can people find out about you find out about the startup and get in contact if they want to help out.
Aylon Steinhart: [00:17:08] So if you want to check out some of the amazing chef, glad flavors or our flavors, and you want to try the product. you know, trying is believing, I've made some big claims about the taste, the texture about, our product in general. So I would say go to shop dot eclipse foods.com to try the product order it to your door.
If you want to follow us in terms of just like latest developments, we're on Instagram. So at eclipse foods that's a good spot. I'm on Twitter. Avon Steinhardt. I'm also on LinkedIn. And then our website eclipse foods.com. And yeah, if people want to support, they can they can definitely just send a message to hello at eclipse who's dot com and.
Let us know what they, what they're thinking, what they have in mind. We're always open or a young startup. We're very nimble. we love people who, who care about our mission. So thanks for having me, Brandon.
Brandon Stover: [00:18:04] Absolutely. And we'll put all those things inside the show notes. Everybody's able to easily access those. And thank you so much for coming on and sharing about eclipse.
Aylon Steinhart: [00:18:12] Yeah, this was really fun. I appreciate you.
Brandon Stover: [00:18:14] That was Aylon Steinhart, co-founder and CEO of eclipse foods. As a reminder, if you want to join our community of inspiring and purpose-driven founders, just like Ayllon and go ahead and head over to evolve the.world/community. That's evolve the.world/community and click on the Patrion button. Not only will you get a chance to be featured on our founder Fridays, but you also gain access to exclusive content extended interviews and step-by-step guides from all the startup experts that we interview. go to evolve the.world/community and click on the Patrion button to join now.