The sugar-free, flavoured drink is gaudy, moreish and huge in LA. But is it because of the look, or the taste?
Still or sparkling? It’s a seemingly innocent question with an answer that can divide tables and draw lines through groups of friends. Like an old-fashioned game of Would You Rather, your answer is a signifier, the same as cats or dogs (dogs) and Whitney or Mariah (Whitney). Still or sparkling? Always sparkling.
Fizzy water inspires zealotry. But few things sound more tame, or suggest that I’m definitely past my Saturn Return, than being #obsessed with seltzer. Cue La Croix, the sugar-free, flavoured sparkling water that has bubbled its way into the lives of, well, seemingly all Americans in the past three years. Among millennials, it is little short of a religion.
I can see why. From its lurid Miami-Vice-meets-Fat-Willy’s branding to the multicoloured cans, each delineating one of its 21 flavours (including coconut, peach-pear and passionfruit), La Croix is a siren of a beverage to look at – and that’s before you taste it. I first tried it on a trip to LA, where a friend had just been through a dramatic breakup that revolved around a pair of La Croix branded socks. I’ll admit I was dubious about it – flavoured waters had always grossed me out (I’m looking at you, Volvic Touch of Fruit) – but the sock story was intriguing and I needed to know more.
It had me at the grapefruit – or “naturally pamplemousse-essenced” (despite this quasi-French vibe, it is pronounced without the “X” – “Croy”, as in Croydon). I was hooked. On first sip, I found the happy spritz of fizzy water with the added dimension of a fruity flavour, but not – and this is important – the sweetness of pops and sodas. In the wake of sugar taxes and countless clean-living social media feeds, La Croix has stepped in as a viable alternative to Fanta et al, not to mention booze, without being “just water”. It’s gaudy yet wholesome, moreish but good for you– “methadone for the soda addict”, as one journalist put it. Everyone’s a winner.
Despite its stratospheric rise to prominence, La Croix is not new. It started in Wisconsin in 1981 and for a long time was just-another-water-brand, beloved of midwestern soccer moms. In 2015, it became a breakout hit, quickly becoming the darling of coastal creatives, celebrities and Instagram. Plaudits came in the form of an independent clothing line, La Croixs Over Boys; a skit between Miley Cyrus and Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show, and many songs by – usually male – fans taking ownership of their favourite beverage. “When you’re sippin’ on La Croix / You know it brings you joy,” sings YouTuber Rakeem. Yes, yes it does.
It has not been without its controversies either, and just this week CEO of La Croix parent company National Beverage Nick Caporella has been accused of sexual harassment (allegations which he denies). The water isn’t available in the UK, but if you don’t mind flavours such as cucumber – which somehow don’t seem nearly trashy-fun enough – fizzy water brands such as Dash make good alternatives.