Just a few years ago, there were few flavored seltzer options and they certainly weren’t featured on everybody’s Instagram. But now, LaCroix has become northing short of a phenomenon. It’s not hard to see why—the no-sugar, zero-calorie, carbonated beverage has light, delicious flavors that are a great alternative to soda. Though the company seemed to pop up out of nowhere overnight, LaCroix has actually been around since 1981. It started as a small company in Wisconsin but was bought by National Beverage (of Shasta Soda fame) in 1996. The large company allowed LaCroix to be sold nationwide and, as Vox reports, as soon as the seltzer boom hit, National Beverage had LaCroix stocked and ready to move out.
LaCroix lets you pay a greater expense for making water less boring.
As more people learn about the dangers of sugar and contradictory evidence about artificial sweeteners, LaCroix has become the tasty beverage of choice. But why is it so popular? Here, we’ll explore the world of LaCroix and how it compares to other diet drink fads of the past.
A Look at LaCroix
Before we get into it, it’s pronounced “La Croy.” It rhymes with enjoy, if that makes it easier to remember. The name comes from a mix of the city La Crosse, Wisconsin, and the St. Croix river, where the seltzer was originally made. The company claims the drink is “all natural,” with just two ingredients listed: carbonated water and natural flavor. But according to some reporting done by the Wall Street Journal, “natural flavor” (or essence, as LaCroix calls it in their marketing materials) is most likely a misleading blanket term. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet defined “essence” but they have said the agency will not object to the use of “natural” on a label “if the food does not contain color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.” While some are put off by the mysterious nature of the “natural flavor” label, LaCroix insists that their beverage does not include any artificial ingredients—clearly LaCroix’s natural flavor meets the FDA’s requirements. But how do they make it? Nobody outside of the company knows exactly, but (as reported by Delish) industry insiders told the Wall Street Journal that the concentrated solution is derived from cooking the skin or rinds of fruits and vegetables at high heat, collecting those vapors, and using the condensed vapors to flavor food. LaCroix’s secrecy may be for a good reason. The company currently serves up 20 flavors, easily outnumbering any competition. If they had to reveal greater details of their flavor recipes, other seltzer companies could easily copy their solution and put out taste-alike LaCroix knock-offs. The seltzer market has already skyrocketed with many LaCroix wannabes taking up room on grocery store shelves. It makes sense that the company would want to keep their many flavors proprietary as long as they possibly can.
The Boom in Popularity
LaCroix has been around since 1981 and nationwide since 1996, so why did LaCroix suddenly boom in the last few years? Two reasons: soda and neon swirls. By the ‘80s and ‘90s, soda was a staple in the American diet; people frequently drank at least one soda a day, if not one for every meal. If you were being health conscious, you’d reach for a diet soda to cut calories. Most people became borderline addicted to the sweet, sparkling taste. But the new millennium brought about new health concerns about our increasing consumption of soda. Dietitians began to warn the nation about the evils of sugar with some experts blaming the rise of obesity on the abundance of sugary drinks. So, soda sales started to sink. By 2016, soda sales were at a 30-year low. Though people shied away from soda, they still wanted something more exciting to drink than plain water. Enter LaCroix. It’s sweet but has no sugar and it fulfills the carbonated cravings of people coming off a soda fix.
Once something looks trendy on social media it tends to spread like wildfire.
The main reason that LaCroix jumped out ahead of the seltzer crowd, though, was its eye-catching design, says Bon Appetit. Before 2002, LaCroix just looked like any other boring can on the shelf. So, the company decided to do a drastic redesign and came up with the swirly, brightly colored boxes we know so well today. The neon colors and bold typeface caught customers’ eyes. Most other seltzers were in large glass or plastic bottles which never kept their carbonation over the course of days. But LaCroix came in colorful cans. It felt just like a soda and stayed super bubbly to the last drop. That, plus their wide array of flavors made LaCroix a hit with millennials who were getting away from sugary drinks. Nutritionist Jamie Logie tells HealthyWay, “The millennial advantage helped it big time as in an era of sharing images through all forms of social media it had the best free promotional platform from being seen in people’s Instagram pics, [and more]. Once something looks trendy on social media it tends to spread like wildfire.” Another key in LaCroix’s rise to glory is the changing landscape of the diet industry. People have always looked for ways to cut calories and have turned to a variety of low-calorie drinks in the past to help achieve their weight loss goals. But now, the word “diet” is going out of style. People are now less focused on losing weight and more focused on being healthy. With that change, it’s become normal to be skeptical of “diet” ingredients (which often come with processed ingredients). Instead, people gravitate toward “natural” foods, i.e., things without processing or artificial ingredients. “Calorie free beverages using artificial sweeteners like Aspartame and Sucralose that once thrilled dieters are now villainized because of their potential relationship with cancer,” registered dietitian Laura Morton tells us. “Beverage companies are touting the use of ‘real sugar’ instead of artificial sweeteners.” With its all-natural ingredients, LaCroix fits perfectly into this new healthy trend. Customers get the carbonation and flavor they’ve become accustomed to without any unnatural ingredients that have grown so unpopular. Since 2002, LaCroix has gone from producing six flavors up to 20, with more options currently in the works. Though there are more competitors in the sparkling water game, like Dasani, Perrier, and more, none of them have the brand popularity or a social media following to even come close to LaCroix. No fear, LaCroix fans: There’ll continue to be plenty of cans of pamplemousse in America’s future.
Health-Conscious or Concerning?
Anybody with a buzzkill friend on social media has probably seen an article telling you that LaCroix is ruining your teeth. Since LaCroix is so abundantly popular and tastes so good, it’s easy to assume that it must somehow be bad for you. So, should we all line up at the dentist office now? Well, any non-sugary seltzer contains carbonic acid, which can be abrasive to your teeth. But, the levels of this acid are very low. A study out of the University of Birmingham School of Dentistry and Birmingham Dental Hospital in England found that flavored seltzer was equivalently abrasive as a glass of orange juice. People don’t post links telling you that orange juice will rot out your teeth, so drinking a LaCroix now and then won’t either. As always, it’s best to keep things in moderation and if you need to avoid acidic drinks for any reason, then you may want to stay away from the sparkling beverage.
LaCroix’s Place in History
Fads—especially of the diet and health varieties—come and go. LaCroix is just one of many drinks that have been embraced by people trying to lose weight. Though some drinks managed to stick around, other fads burned bright and faded fast.
As society turns its attention to wellness, will LaCroix stand the test of time or just turn out to be another trend?
Before the Great Depression, fad diets were primarily aimed at the rich, who could afford to care about things like nutrition and appearance. Popular methods included Fletcherism (chewing each bite of food 100 times) and a diet promoted by tobacco company Lucky Strike (“Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet”), according to The Guardian. The Hay diet from Dr. William Hay gained some traction in the ’30s, but Depression-era Americans were more worried about simply getting enough to eat and most diet fads faded away. During World War II, the nation was on rations, aka a government-mandated diet. Again, our concerns were pushed away from personal problems as we focused our attention on winning the war and getting America back to glory. In the ‘50s, things started to change. The middle class grew, supermarkets began to stock a wider variety of products, and the TV dinner gave America the instant meal. With all this easy access food, it gave people the chance to eat more—and to start worrying about what they were eating. So, with the dawn of the ‘60s came the birth of our modern diet industry. Weight Watchers was founded in 1963 and the Atkins diet got people counting their carbs in 1972. Models and celebrities got thinner throughout the decades. The ’50s had women like Elizabeth Taylor with a BMI of 20.5, while in the ’60s and beyond, uber-thin models like Twiggy and Kate Moss (with BMIs of 15 and 16, respectively) gained popularity. As women in magazines grew ever thinner, the average woman felt the increasing pressure to keep a traditionally beautiful figure. Through the ’80s and ’90s, the focus on appearance and obsession with youth reached its zeitgeist. As society turns its attention to wellness, will LaCroix stand the test of time or just turn out to be another trend? To find out, we can look at the up-and-down journeys of diet drinks of the past.
Lord Byron’s Vinegar and Water Diet
Even in 1820, people were desperate to lose weight. Lord Byron, the famous poet, was also the first celebrity diet icon. Obsessed with staying thin, Byron tried a wide array of dangerous diets in an effort to keep weight away. One of his most popular schemes was a diet of mainly drinking water and apple cider vinegar, according to Mental Floss. Though a water-and-vinegar diet seems obsessive today, oddly enough apple cider vinegar has made a real comeback. Drinking apple cider vinegar (ACV) is touted in nutrition blogs and the fruity vinegar can be seen in many Instagram photos as a key component of a healthy breakfast. People praise the vinegar’s healthful properties and though the modern use of ACV isn’t as strict as Byron’s, his signature drink still has many fans.
The very first diet soda was made without any kind of diet in mind. No-Cal was created in 1953 by a small soda company who wanted to make an option for diabetics. The soda grossed between $5 million and $6 million in their first year (in 1953 dollars) even though they were exclusively available in the Northeast, according to American Heritage.
In 1961, Royal Crown Cola, spurred on by No-Cal’s success, put out their own sugar-free drink, Diet Rite. In test markets, Diet Rite beat out Coke and Pepsi in sales, something Royal Crown was previously never able to accomplish. Though both drinks were originally made for people suffering from diabetes, No-Cal and Diet Rite started advertising their drinks as a weight loss aid. And the craze only got bigger from there.
Pepsi wasn’t about to let everyone else get all the diet soda glory. By 1963, Pepsi came out with their own diet drink. But they weren’t confident that their new sugar-free soda wouldn’t hurt Pepsi’s good name. So, their diet drink was branded separately with an odd sounding title—Patio.
If that sounds familiar, Patio’s ad campaign was the focus of an episode of Mad Men. But Patio was very real and hugely successful. The name itself only lasted a year. After Pepsi saw the drink would work, they renamed it Diet Pepsi, a name that’s remained ever since. Though No-Cal and Diet Rite mentioned the weight loss aspects of their drinks and targeted their advertising to women, Patio (and Diet Pepsi) really capitalized on the growing obsession with weight loss. Diet Pepsi jumped on this bandwagon and exclusively targeted women in their ads with slogans like “The girls girl-watchers watch, drink Diet Pepsi.” All the pretty girls drink Diet Pepsi. Why don’t you?
Coke wasn’t far behind with its addition to the world of diet drinks. Right after Patio, Coke came out with TaB in 1963. “How can one calorie taste so good?” said TaB’s many advertisements.
The drink was a success and was produced until the mid ‘80s, when Diet Coke took over and TaB was phased out. Today, you can find TaB online or you can try Coke’s low-calorie energy drink that’s sold under the same name. If you’ve never heard of it (bah, millennials), there’s some mystery around the drink’s strange name. Though many believed that TaB stood for “Totally Artificial Beverage,” Snopes revealed the true, but less exciting truth behind the name: Coke wanted a short, catchy title for their new drink and eventually liked the name “tab,” as in “keeping tabs on your weight.” The graphic designer felt the capitalized first and last letter helped the drink stand out on the shelf, and thus TaB was born.
Since TaB was never officially marketed under the Coca-Cola brand name, the company was without a diet drink of its own until 1982. The diet craze was in full swing and Coke wanted to capitalize on the nation’s obsession with weight.
Initially, the drink was marketed to showcase its taste rather than its lack of calories. But the name “Diet Coke” spoke for itself and became a huge hit. Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, people turned to Diet Coke when they wanted something sweet with no calories attached. Though classic Coke was always the company’s top product, Diet Coke was never far behind. Until the 2000s, diet sodas were practically considered a necessary part of any weight loss plan. But even these incredibly successful diet drinks are on the decline. People are moving away from soda and wary of artificial ingredients. If the trend away from diets and towards natural products continues, Diet Coke and Pepsi may be as hard to find as TaB.
The Future of LaCroix
Will LaCroix end up slowly fading away like other diet drinks of the past? With seltzer sales growing by the year, competitors are already trying to knock LaCroix from its No. 1 position. On Oct 2., Coca-Cola announced its completed acquisition of Topo Chico, a sparkling water brand from Mexico. Though Coca-Cola has been promoting Dasani Sparkling and Smartwater Sparkling, they see Topo Chico as their best chance at bubbly success. Coca-Cola’s vice president of marketing and innovation, Kellam Mattie, said that the water “has a very loyal base of Hispanic consumers … and over the years it has even garnered a massive millennial following.” It remains to be seen if Topo Chico’s performance in the United States market will go the way of No-Cal, Diet Rite, Patio, and TaB or if it will see the major long-term success of Diet Coke or even LaCroix. Despite these emerging competitors, though, there seems to be nothing else in the way of LaCroix’s ongoing success. As author of The Zone Diet Dr. Barry Sears says, “There is nothing wrong with water. LaCroix lets you pay a greater expense for making water less boring. It will stand the test of time as long you have excess money to pay for it.” So, as long as people are worried about losing weight and we’ve got some extra cash lying around, LaCroix will likely stay in business for years to come.