I first heard about LaCroix from a coworker who grew up outside of Chicago. She waxed poetic about her parents sitting down to sip cold "Pamplemousse"-flavored sparkling water at the end of the day, which sounded so intriguingly chic, another coworker bought a 12-pack of cans so we could try it ourselves. I tried one and wondered if I was missing something. It was fizzy water with a recognizable grapefruit flavor and not a hint of sweetness. What was the big deal?
That was five years ago. Now you'll usually find a couple flavors of LaCroix in my fridge — I'm a Pamplemousse fan forever and my husband loves Peach-Pear — and it seems I'm not alone in my newfound love for the unsweetened, flavored sparkling water in the fancy cans straight out of the 1980s. What the heck is going on?
According to The Washington Post, sparkling water in general is enjoying a boom, with sales more than doubling in the last five years as consumers look for healthier alternatives to soda. Sales of LaCroix in particular have tripled since 2009, and the brand enjoyed a moment in the cultural spotlight recently when the sparkling water was the subject of a "Letter of Recommendation" in The New York Times Magazine.
→ Read it: Letter of Recommendation: LaCroix Sparkling Water - New York Times Magazine
More informally, I've noticed the cans popping up more freequently in friends' refrigerators, or on offer at local sandwich shops alongside the sodas and bottled waters. When someone comes over and I say, "Want something to drink? We have some LaCroix," nobody ever says, "What's that?" Somehow the sparkling water has become a Thing, without any splashy ad campaigns or celebrity endorsements. Have you noticed it too?
In my household, LaCroix became a staple when my husband started trying to cut down on his soda drinking, which had crept up from one or two bottles a week to an almost-daily lunch accompaniment. The first time he tried it, he said, "Eh." But here we are, a year later, and he's the one getting excited when we find a new flavor at the store.
Of course, there are several different brands of flavored, unsweetened fizzy water on the market to choose from, if you're looking to kick the soda habit, so why does LaCroix inspire such devotion in its drinkers? I quizzed some of my friends to find out why they drink it.
"Helps me keep up with all that water we're supposed to drink daily ... without being sad and boring."
"Takes care of soda fix. No guilt, all hydration!"
"There's something about the effervescence in LaCroix that I feel makes it better than many other sparkling waters. For example, when I make our own sparkling water with our home system, the bubbles are larger and less plentiful than LaCroix."
"LaCroix satisfies the desire for carbonated, ice-cold beverages without the chemical taste I find in other sparkling waters. And certain flavors are surprisingly good lengtheners in light cocktails."
"It's been my main substitute for alcohol since I quit drinking. I sit down on the couch after a hard day, pop open a LaCroix, and let the psychosomatic bubbles work their magic."
It's healthier than soda, it tastes good in cocktails, it satisfies the craving for a cocktail, it's perfectly fizzy — these are all good reasons, but they seem to be missing some magical element that keeps us all coming back for more.
Perhaps it is the charm inherent in a brand rooted in the Midwest, but with a vaguely snooty French name that is a nod to the seltzer's hometown of La Crosse, Wisconsin — a name that is stripped of all pretension when you learn it is pronounced "la-KROY," not "la-KWAH."
Whatever it is, LaCroix, you've got me. And I know I'm not the only one.