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Students create new hemp-based milk alternative with ‘Chilk’

Started in November of last year, Chilk formulates milk-alternative drinks infused with hemp extracts to promote stress relief and relaxation. The company was originally conceived as a joke between friends, however they now sell their product in Westwood and plan to expand to the rest of California. (Chelsea Westman/Daily Bruin)

By Julie Lee and Zinnia Finn

Sept. 29, 2021 9:21 p.m.

Update: This article was updated to clarify Chilk’s ingredients composition.

This post was updated Sept. 30 at 4:24 p.m.

Chilk is milk’s cooler cousin.

Conceived in November, the student startup creates milk-alternative beverages infused with hemp extracts that contain a percent of CBD, which aids with stress relief and relaxation. Although Chilk recently competed for the Hult Prize, an entrepreneurial contest of which the winners are yet to be announced, Chilk co-founder Ian Quinton said the product’s initial form was barely the seed of a company – it was a running joke. He said the idea was conceived when two of his friends both inherited farms, one for raising cattle and the other for growing marijuana.

“They came to the conclusion of ‘Why don’t you just inject the weed into the cow and have weed milk,’” Quinton said. “That’s how we came up with chilk – chill milk.”

Although the company was unable to combine the two entities, Quinton said they researched hemp-based milk products and realized the market was open, except for a handful of homeopathic and home remedies. Led by Leo Liu, Chilk co-founder and biochemistry graduate student, the team began experimenting with different bases and adding in hemp extracts. In its infancy, the drink was sold only to students who lived at Liu’s co-op, but Chief Financial Officer Jake Grodnitzky said it was later distributed to the UCLA community and received more constructive criticism from consumers who weren’t friends of the founders.

(Chelsea Westman/Daily Bruin)
After research on the interactions among oil, water and milk, Chilk landed on an almond and coconut blend for the base of their chocolate, matcha and strawberry flavors. (Chelsea Westman/Daily Bruin)

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Such critiques remarked that the prototype was too watery and weak, Grodnitzky said. The team then conducted research on chemical interactions among oil, water and milk, and how to best emulsify them into a homogeneous mixture, which Grodnitzky said led to the current combination of coconut and almond. Since the finalization of the base, Chilk has released three flavors – chocolate, matcha and strawberry – and stocks its product at Falafel Inc.

“We’ve been putting out a bunch of flyers on the UCLA campus and housing, and we’re trying to plan for our events,” Quinton said. “We’re (going to) try and make sure all of the returning and new students know that Chilk’s home (is) UCLA.”

As a member of the student body, fourth-year chemistry student James Yoon said he first tried Chilk about a month ago, but he had previously heard about the product through Facebook and word of mouth at the co-op. He said the strawberry option is his favorite, and he mainly chooses hemp-based products to help with anxiety.

“CBD is pretty difficult to ascertain, I know sometimes it can feel like a placebo,” Yoon said. “Having tried Chilk and also having tried other CBD products in the past, I generally feel a sense of relaxation.”

In addition to being calming, Grodnitzky said CBD found in hemp extracts also reduces insomnia and muscle pain. It is also anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, which is important for athletic recovery and longevity, he said. The plant-based aspect of Chilk is also better for the environment, and Quinton said the nonmilk base is more inclusive of customers with dietary restrictions or lactose intolerance.

Despite the potential pros of CBD in hemp extracts, however, Grodnitzky said the stigma surrounding the product is a nearly impermeable barrier. He said consumers would be inclined to drink Chilk if they blindly heard the benefits, but once the relationship to cannabis is mentioned many put their guard up. This connotation of hemp-based products as drugs or drug-adjacent is an outlook Grodnitzky said the company is hoping to change.

“We’re trying to be more of a cool health drink than a drug drink – we were hoping to change that perception,” Grodnitzky said.

(Chelsea Westman/Daily Bruin)
Chilk is aiming to offer an ambassador program to UCLA students and hopes to eventually expand beyond Westwood to other California cities. (Chelsea Westman/Daily Bruin)

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To achieve this goal, the team is planning on slowly expanding and offering Chilk nationally and eventually internationally, Grodnitzky said. They hope to accomplish this through introducing the product to other California cities such as San Francisco and Santa Barbara, he said, and providing students ambassador positions to further spread the word in Westwood.

In addition to expanding within the UCLA community, Grodnitzky said Chilk is entering entrepreneurship competitions such as one hosted by the Hult International Business School and the Clinton Foundation. The Hult Prize, which Grodnitzky said is awarded in New York this fall, will not only provide the company with funding, but it will also represent the campus community supporting Chilk.

“This will be a win not only for Chilk but for every Bruin,” Grodnitzky said. “Because even though we’re not all UCLA students, without the influence of the school and help from the students, none of this would’ve been possible.”

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Julie Lee
Zinnia Finn | Daily Bruin senior staff
Finn is a senior staff writer for Arts & Entertainment and PRIME. She was previously the Lifestyle editor from 2021-2022, an Arts reporter from 2020-2021 and a member of PRIME’s first intern class from 2019-2020. She is a fourth-year neuroscience and public health student from San Francisco, California.
Finn is a senior staff writer for Arts & Entertainment and PRIME. She was previously the Lifestyle editor from 2021-2022, an Arts reporter from 2020-2021 and a member of PRIME’s first intern class from 2019-2020. She is a fourth-year neuroscience and public health student from San Francisco, California.
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