Eclipse ice cream.
Eclipse Foods first product is a plant-based ice cream that is as creamy as its dairy counterpart. Photo: Eclipse Foods

If you haven’t yet heard of Eclipse, it’s only a matter of time before you will.

Eclipse Foods is a start-up that makes a plant-based dairy alternative. It was founded in Berkeley by Aylon Steinhart, a former business advisor at the Good Food Institute who focused on innovative plant-based foods and Thomas Bowman, an award-winning chef and food scientist who developed the plant-based JUST mayonnaise. It has backers from the tech world, such as Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, Gmail creator Paul Buchheit, and Daiya Foods’ former chair Eric Patel. And it has positioned itself as “The Impossible Burger of dairy.”

“With the technology behind Eclipse, we’ve created a milk that functions like cow’s milk,” said Steinhart, a Cal graduate. “In the same way you’d use dairy milk to make sour cream, cheese or ice cream, you can make those same products with the taste, texture and functionality of the animal counterpart.”

While Eclipse Foods is based in West Berkeley, the company will soon move to a larger facility in Oakland’s Jack London Square. But the product is actually made at a co-packer elsewhere in the Bay Area.

As for what it’s made of, Eclipse contains ingredients like ancient corn, oats, potato, canola oil and cassava, a tuber native to South America. But any discussion of what’s in it should also mention what’s not. Eclipse does not contain common allergens, like wheat, coconut, nuts, soy, gums, gels or stabilizers; it also does not contain genetically modified ingredients. And, its products are around the same price point as conventional dairy.

And unlike other plant-based milks, Steinhart says, Eclipse can be transformed into virtually any dairy product.

So far, the company has entered the market with ice cream only, with plans to roll out cheeses and other products next year. Eclipse ice cream can be found at the Oakland and Berkeley locations of Humphry Slocombe and Milkbomb Ice Cream in Berkeley, but “you can expect massive growth every month because there’s been a lot of demand,” said Steinhart, who cites Impossible Burgers in every Burger King as inspiration. “The big focus in 2020 is getting this product everywhere.”

Eclipse Foods founders. Photo: Eclipse Foods
Eclipse Foods founders Aylon Steinhart and Thomas Bowman. Photo: Eclipse Foods

While various cheeses have also been in development since the company launched in 2018, Eclipse decided to enter the marketplace with ice cream first, for a number of reasons.

“People are fanatical about ice cream,” said Steinhart. “There are not a lot of foods that people will stand outside in the winter for, beer and ice cream are about it.”

Additionally, products like cheese or sour cream are often part of a dish, whereas ice cream is the main attraction. And, dairy ice cream is incredibly inefficient to make from a resources perspective, requiring three gallons of milk to make one gallon of ice cream, which means Eclipse can have a greater impact replacing such a product.

Additionally, Eclipse realized there’s not a single plant-based dairy alternative being sold in fast-food restaurants, yet. With both the Impossible and Beyond burgers being sold now in fast-food restaurants, the market potential for dairy-free milkshakes is huge.

Interestingly, Steinhart noted that more ice cream is purchased for consumption outside the home, in either specialized ice cream stores or in restaurants; the market for pints bought in grocery stores for home consumption is much smaller, which is why they’re not looking to be in grocery freezers just yet.

Eclipse has created its own vanilla and chocolate ice creams as well as a neutral base that chefs can use to create whatever flavors they want, as well as chocolate and vanilla for soft serve machines.

“People are fanatical about ice cream. There are not a lot of foods that people will stand outside in the winter for, beer and ice cream are about it.” — Aylon Steinhart, co-founder of Eclipse Foods

“We want people to fall in love with the brand,” he said. Once consumers know and love Eclipse ice cream, he reasons, brand loyalists will be waiting for the next product to roll out, and the next.

“The animal industry — like eggs, dairy and meat — are trillion-dollar industries worldwide,” said Steinhart. “There is so much room for innovation and so much need for new products.”

And with Eclipse’s versatility, the possibilities are seemingly endless. At a press event on the East Coast, Steinhart said a chef took its base and served the founders various experiments with it they hadn’t tried yet, turning it into whipped cream and crème Anglaise, for example.

“This milk functions like milk,” he said. “That’s the most exciting thing about it, there are no plant-based items like it.”

When asked to address how heavily processed Eclipse products are, Steinhart said, “Processed means a lot of different things. We process our milk in the same way that dairy products are processed. Our cheese is made with the same French cultures as traditional cheese. Our ice cream is made with the same pasteurizers and homogenizers as traditional ice cream. Yes there is a process, but boiling a potato is processing it.”

As it’s made without animal fat, Steinhart says Eclipse could be a good alternative for those with concerns about heart disease, hypertension, cholesterol or saturated fat. However, Eclipse is not a health food, either; its fat and calorie content is comparable to real dairy.

“It’s not a health food, but it benefits a lot of populations that are lactose intolerant,” he said.

This article was revised to clarify Steinhart’s claims about Eclipse’s health benefits.

Alix Wall is an Oakland-based freelance writer. She is contributing editor of J., The Jewish News of Northern California, for which she has a food column and writes other features. In addition to Berkeleyside’s...