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Aylon Steinhart of Eclipse Foods: “Stay focused”

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 […]

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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.


As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Aylon Steinhart.

Aylon Steinhart is the co-founder and CEO of Eclipse Foods, which makes plant-based dairy products that are indistinguishable from conventional dairy in pursuit of its mission to create a more sustainable, responsible and humane food system. He is one of the top experts in the alternative protein industry and was previously at the Good Food Institute, the leading non-profit in the plant-based space, speaking regularly on food innovation at conferences and universities such as Harvard, MIT, Yale, Berkeley and Stanford.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My co-founder and I come from very different backgrounds to accomplish a shared mission- to create a more sustainable, healthy, and humane food system by providing people plant-based products that require no sacrifice.

Prior to founding Eclipse, I was a software entrepreneur turned vegan advocate. I decided to leave software because I saw the massive opportunity to make a positive impact on the world through fixing our broken food system. As an advocate for the plant-based space, I helped start the innovation department of the leading non-profit in the alternative protein space, The Good Food Institute. 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 universities such as Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Yale, and UC Berkeley (where I studied business).

My co-founder Thomas was an award-winning chef turned world-renowned product developer. Thomas chef’d or staged at Michelin Starred restaurants, was twice nominated James Beard Rising Star Chef, and was named Zagat 30 under 30 (so, not a vegan). He then served as the Director of Product Development at Hampton Creek (JUST) where he created some of the best-selling plant-based products in the world, including JUST Mayo, Cookies, and Dressings. Thomas has a degree from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America

Thomas 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

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Thomas and I started Eclipse to change the food system, for good. Today, many of the default options for our food (meat, dairy, eggs) are produced through industrial animal agriculture, or factory farming. Factory farming is destroying the planet, hurting animals, and making people sick.

What we knew from our work in the alternative protein world, 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 makes Eclipse uniquely disruptive beyond all other plant-based dairy brands 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. In a blind taste-test conducted by a UC Berkeley professor, 77% of people said Eclipse is creamier than the best-selling dairy ice cream in the US.

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, 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 Michelin Star restaurants, our co-founder Thomas 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, including Michael Tusk of Quince (3 Michelin Stars) and Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette of Little Donkey (James Beard Award winners). 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 to is that Eclipse is the first ever true dairy replacement (vs. a dairy substitute). In the burger world, substitutes are things like black-bean burgers, while true replacements are things like the Beyond Burger. In dairy, there are many substitutes (oat milk, cashew cheese, soy ice cream) but Eclipse has created the first ever true dairy replacement.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The funniest mistake we made early on was when our Eclipse ice cream mix accidentally turned into yogurt. When we first started producing the Eclipse ice cream mix, we were sprinting towards an important deadline to create the first-ever indistinguishable plant-based ice cream mix that we could actually sell to our initial partners. In order to meet this deadline, we spent many days and nights creating and perfecting our product at an R&D production facility.

It was nearing the holidays and we were getting closer and closer to having a finished product. We had just completed an early morning R&D run that we felt really good about and headed back to our HQ with a car full of ice cream mix. The whole team was anxious to test the mix over the following days to see if we had finally cracked the code and created the world’s first indistinguishable plant-based dairy mix.

What we found over those next few days really surprised us. Instead of the mix staying smooth and creamy like it was meant to, our product became thicker and thicker every day. Eventually, the product was so thick we couldn’t even make ice cream with it any more. Our product was unusable, our goal looked more and more unachievable, and our vision of an indistinguishable dairy product seemed all the more unattainable. We were scared that we would never be able to hit our deadline and scared that all our work was in vain.

But as the days went by, it became more obvious exactly what was going on. And what was going on was actually a really good sign for Eclipse’s future. We didn’t know it at the time, but the R&D trial we had conducted was exposed to a higher level of lactobacillus than we anticipated. Lactobacillus is a naturally occurring bacteria that is often used as a starter culture in the food industry. So what was really going on was that our ice cream mix was actually just like dairy… it was turning into yogurt!

We tasted our accidentally-created yogurt and it was DELICIOUS! What’s more, we had demonstrated a hugely important part of Eclipse’s technology- that our base truly functions like a dairy base. In this regard, our product was already proving indistinguishable from dairy.

Luckily for our goal and deadline, our commercial-scale production facility is tightly controlled and does not lead to accidental yogurt creation. Just a few weeks later, we finished our formula, created our commercial product, and launched Eclipse ice cream to the world!

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Two of my greatest mentors throughout the Eclipse journey have been Alexis Ohanian (co-founder of Reddit and Initialized Capital) and Seth Goldman (Chairman of Beyond Meat and Founder of Honest Tea).

I feel incredibly lucky to get to learn from such visionary leaders. Not only are they both highly accomplished, but they are truly dedicated to our shared mission of creating a more sustainable, healthy, and humane food system.

In fact, Alexis was an Executive Producer of The Game Changers, the James Cameron documentary film about plant-based athletes. Being a huge fan of Eclipse’s soft serve, Alexis recommended that Eclipse be served at the official film premier celebrations in New York and Los Angeles. We were thrilled for the opportunity to get our ice cream in front of so many of our heroes and sent the product to the executive chefs in charge of the events, hoping they would love it too. After a few days of nervous waiting, the chefs got back to us with their verdict- they were blown away and wanted to serve our soft serve at the event! It was a really exciting moment for us as such a young brand to get to share our product with some of the people that are doing the most to further our shared mission of transforming the food system.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Fundamentally, disruption is neither good nor bad — it just really depends on what is being disrupted and from what perspective you look at the disruption. For example, disruption of a dangerous infection with antibiotics would generally be considered good from the individual’s perspective. However, disruption of the gut microbiome with unnecessary antibiotics would generally be considered bad from the individual’s perspective. It all comes down to the results of the disruption on the system.

At Eclipse, we are disrupting for good, from the perspective of the planet, humanity, and animals. That is because Eclipse is disrupting industrial animal agriculture (or factory farming). According to the UN, industrial animal agriculture is responsible for more climate change than all of transportation combined, greatly increases the risk of pandemics and zoonotic diseases like swine flu, avian flu, and mad cow disease, and drives the unnecessary death of 60 billion animals every year.

By contrast, a food system that relies on plants, instead of animals, would reduce agricultural emissions by up to 73%, and save one million liters of water per person, per year. A plant-based food system would drastically lower the risk of zoonotic diseases and antibiotic resistance, since today factory farm animals receive 70% of the antibiotics produced in the US. And finally, a food system that doesn’t rely on animals would save 60 billion animal lives every year. Achieving this would not just be a good disruption, but a disruption that is necessary for avoiding the existential threats that we face to life as we know it.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  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. We’ve created the first ever plant-based ice cream that CNN called “indistinguishable from the dairy version”.
  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. An example of this was when Thomas and I were preparing for Y Combinator’s Demo Day. Y Combinator is the most prestigious tech accelerator of our time and their Demo Day draws some of the top VC and angel investors from all over the world.
    In preparing for this event, Thomas and I spent many days and nights straight preparing our presentation, talking points, and product to present to all of the investors. This process was definitely a sprint. Luckily, this effort paid off and Eclipse was able to close our seed round, led by Alexis Ohanian (the co-founder of Reddit) and the Initialized Capital team, quickly following demo day. Once the 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 the pre-Demo Day pace, we would not have been able to sustain Eclipse’s growth to launching 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 article came out in TechCrunch 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, Isaac, 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. This turned out to be one of the best decisions in Eclipse’s history, with Isaac continually blowing us away with his initiative, problem-solving abilities, and work ethic.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Eclipse is just at the beginning of our long journey. The US dairy industry is massive, around 100B dollars, so even when Eclipse reaches 1B dollars in revenue we will only be 1% of the market. Our vision is to completely disrupt the global dairy market, and that means taking significant market share away from animal-based dairy. We will continue shaking things for years to come by introducing more plant-based products that require no sacrifice and therefore make the sustainable, healthy, humane choice the default choice.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

The film that changed my life and started me on this alternative protein journey is Cowspiracy. This film lays out the true impacts of industrial animal agriculture on the planet and was completely eye opening to me.

From a young age, I considered myself a nature lover, animal lover, and eventually an environmentalist. After watching Cowspiracy and 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.

A few months later, my friend sent me a link about the Impossible Burger. This was before the product was even in the market. Reading about the mission and approach that Impossible Foods was taking was a complete aha moment for me. Here was a company that was using technology, entrepreneurship, and innovation (my professional passion) to transform the food system for good (my personal mission). At that very moment I know that I would step away from the software startup I had founded to eventually start a company in the alternative protein industry to transform the food system.

In addition to this life-changing film, other media I would warmly recommend on this topic is The Game Changers (film), Eating Animals (book), How Not to Die (book) and many others.

For CEOs (and really anyone that wants to communicate more empathetically), I would strongly recommend Nonviolent Communication, Radical Candor, and others,

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorite quotes is:

“Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.”

While this quote is somewhat counterintuitive to my career — after all, measurable goals and milestones are essential for growing a successful company — it is a quote that captures a philosophy on what truly matters in life.

In my world view, the things that bring living beings the most joy are the things that allow us to express our natural tendencies. For chickens, that might mean rolling around in dirt, for elephants it might mean roaming the jungle, and for humans I believe it means things like spending time with the people we love, going for walks in nature, enjoying nourishing food, and creating for the sake of creative expression.

None of the activities I’ve listed above are made more enjoyable, more fulfilling, by trying to quantify them into some kind of numerical goal. You wouldn’t want the point of spending time with friends to be checking off a box that you’ve reached 4 hours together, or the point of going for a walk in a meadow to check off seeing 100 wildflowers, and so on.

I believe that some of the most important things in life simply don’t need to, or cannot, be counted.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Transforming our food system away from industrial animal agriculture and towards plants. This transformation has the ability to help save us from climate change, bring millions of people out of starvation, save millions of human lives, and save billions of animal lives.

Let me explain. From a climate perspective, industrial animal agriculture is responsible for more climate change than all of transportation combined, according to the UN. In fact, with over 70% of the world’s arable land being used for the livestock industry, industrial animal agriculture is the single biggest contributor to natural habitat destruction (90% of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest is by the livestock industry) and a leading contributor to pollution of water, land, and air. By contrast, a food system that relies on plants, instead of animals, would reduce agricultural emissions by up to 73%, and save one million liters of water per person, per year.

From a human starvation perspective, industrial animal agriculture is the response for a double-gutting of local food systems in underdeveloped nations. First, it creates more competition for crops fed to animals like corn, wheat, and soy, which makes these crops more expensive for the world’s poorest populations. Second, the animals that are fed these crops are frequently slaughtered and shipped to richer nations. Given that more than 10% of the world’s population is undernourished, this is a massive human problem. By contrast, a food system that relies on plants, instead of animals, could use many of the billion pounds of nutritious food that is eaten by animals to be eaten by starving people.

From a human life perspective, excessive consumption of animal products is linked to all of the most lethal chronic diseases in the developed world including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer and more. Additionally, with 70% of antibiotics in the US being used for factory farm animals, we are drastically increasing the risk of antibiotic resistance and are creating breeding grounds for new pandemics and zoonotic diseases such as swine flu, avian flu, and mad cow disease. By contrast, a food system that relies on plants, instead of animals, would not require the extreme overuse of antibiotics and has been shown to reduce risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and more.

From an animal life perspective, today 60 billion animals are killed every year. And while many of these animals are more intelligent than even cats and dogs, these animals live daily lives in conditions so bad that they would warrant felony cruelty to animal charges if they were protected animals like cats and dogs. By contrast, a food system that relies on plants, instead of animals, would not require 60 billion animals to unnecessarily suffer and die every single year.

The solution for the individual is simple — eating more plants and fewer animal products. This is a great resource to start: https://gamechangersmovie.com/food/

How can our readers follow you online?

Eclipse’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/eclipsefoods/

Eclipse’s mailing list on our website: https://www.eclipsefoods.com/

My LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/aylonsteinhart/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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