As Americans drink way too many energy drinks, a 22-year-old surfer catches the next wave: a beverage that calms you down
Author Adam Baer
THE VENICE BEACH Whole Foods rarely experiences scenes more distressing than tanned, beautiful people wandering peacefully through aisles of organic produce. On a recent Monday afternoon, however, an irate man in a Panama hat paces at the store’s customer-service counter, unsettling everyone’s Zen. “Please leave the store, sir,” a manager instructs him. “We’re calling security.”
Nearby stands Max Baumann, a tall, blond, blue-eyed 22-year-old with a lean surfer’s build. Baumann turns to the man, smiles easily, and says, “Just chill, man. Maybe after a few sips of this?” He’s holding a can of a supplement-fortified “relaxation beverage” called, naturally, Just Chill. As if under a spell, the man calms down, and the mild-mannered Baumann goes about his business. Today his business is asking the attendant to restock the shelves with more Just Chill, a lightly carbonated peach and citrus drink dosed with 100 milligrams of the FDA-approved tea- leaf compound L-theanine, which has been shown in clinical studies to reduce anxiety while keeping people attentive.
A Malibu, California, native, Baumann is the creator of the soothing beverage and the CEO of The Chill Group, the young company that manufactures it. His is the latest in a recent surge of relaxation drinks to hit the market, presenting themselves to an overstimulated public as the antidote to the fast-expanding universe of energy drinks, which right now comprise a multibillion dollar global industry, led by the mighty Red Bull and the wildly popular Four Loko, the first version of which combined alcohol and caffeine, inciting various state bans and an FDA ruling last November declaring it unsafe.
Baumann got the idea for Just Chill during a short stint at Santa Barbara City College, which he did following a year of surfing in Indonesia, the Maldives and Australia. “As you travel, you see so many stressed-out people,” Baumann says, cruising along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway in his Toyota pickup truck. “I just looked around and realized people don’t need more energy drinks or caffeine; they need something to chill them out. Stress, nervousness and anxiety do not help you, as we’ve seen with all that jitter juice and snooze booze on the market.”
He started researching natural substances that could serve as the active ingredient in a drink intended to keep you calm and focused, and he discovered L-theanine, which proved effective in research settings. Baumann presented the drink concept to his marketing class and got praise from the teacher, who has since put him on the school’s marketing advisory board. He then took his idea to the beverage consultancy Power Brands, where a “food tech” created the proprietary blend, combining L-theanine with lemongrass, ginseng and gingko, as well as B and C vitamins, zinc, natural fruit extracts and a few grams of natural sugar. “Our active [ingredient] is found naturally in green tea, and, unlike other drinkmakers, we don’t use melatonin or kava, which may be bad for your liver,” Baumann says, while cruising through the rustic- chic Malibu neighborhood where he grew up next door to actor David Duchovny and across the street from Owen Wilson. L-theanine, Baumann explains, increases alpha brain waves, which relax you, and dopamine, the feel-good brain chemical.
Baumann formed The Chill Group in 2009 with Russell Fager, Jeff King and Robert Young, a wealthy software entrepreneur who had been mentoring him as a favor to his father, Peter Baumann, a musician who also launched the record label that introduced the world to Yanni. Getting the drink off the ground took around $250,000, which Baumann drew from savings and hustled from friends and family. “I know that I’m really fortunate to have been born into a position where I could raise the money to kick-start the business,” Baumann says earnestly. “At the same time, my father is pretty stern about how much equity he can help me raise. The next hurdle is to get venture capital to make Just Chill a national brand.”
Just over a year old, Just Chill is already available in 500 stores, mostly in Southern California, although also in Florida and Oklahoma. The company has made about a quarter of a million dollars in revenue (about 25 cents on each $1.69 to $1.99 can), and has had to hire some 15 employees to handle the San Diego, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara markets. Baumann is currently eyeing an expansion of Just Chill into a full-fledged lifestyle brand, complete with merchandise and even celebrity endorsements.
He may not have to go far for the latter. “It’s a funny story,” Baumann says. “The first person to try Just Chill was Owen Wilson. I’d invited him over to use our beach access. He showed up with his brother Luke, another guy, two hot models and a dog. He really loved the drink. I was hoping he could be an endorser. We could call him Owen Chill-son. But I’m not sure he’d be into that. On the other hand, he is pretty mellow…”
Los Angeles–based writer ADAM BAER’s favorite “relaxation beverage” is a revolutionary product called vodka.
Miles to go before we relax
In the U.S., revenues of relaxation drink makers is expected to grow by a whopping
51.4% this year, to $73.7 million which (though very strong) will amount to just 3.7% of energy drink revenues over the same period. Expected total: $1.99 billion