Housed in pastel colored cans and available in flavors like coconut, pamplemousse, and peach-pear, it feels as if everyone is drinking La Croix.
This is not all optical illusion—the brand is legitimately expanding. National Beverage, which makes the flavored seltzer water, saw net sales rise from $646 million in 2015 to $827 million for the company’s most recent fiscal year (it does not break down sales by brand). Remarkably (some would say suspiciously), over that same time period, profit jumped from $49.3 million to $107 million.
This growth, while impressive, doesn’t fully explain La Croix’s status as a cultural phenomenon. How does a line of sparkling, lightly-flavored canned waters inspire parody pieces, rankings, halloween costumes, pop art, cocktail guides and yes, even a New York Times’ endorsement?
The short answer: fortuitous timing plus savvy marketing.
La Croix has been around for more than 30 years, but sales really began taking off in 2010. In large part, this was because Americans—once a nation of loyal soda drinkers—were looking to reduce their intake of sugar and artificial sweeteners. As a result, soda and diet soda sales slumped, says Darren Seifer, a food and beverage analyst at the NPD Group, creating a huge opportunity for sparkling water brands. Indeed, over the past four years alone, the category has more than doubled, growing from $961 million in the 52 weeks ending June 1, 2013 to $1.8 billion in the 52 weeks ending May 27, 2017, according to data from Nielsen, which tracks sales in grocery and convenience stores.
La Croix isn’t the only brand to ride the rising sparkling tide. But while competitors like Perrier and Poland Springs launched traditional media campaigns, La Croix went digital. Its pastel cans feel omnipresent because, especially if you’re a millennial, La Croix cans likely really are all over your social media feeds. The company is particularly active on Instagram, where it works with a vast network of “micro-influencers” (the term for users with thousands, instead of hundreds of thousands, of followers) and encourages fans to use hashtags to share La Croix recipes and “experiences.” It caught the attention of food and health users, who responded to its nutritional claims (no sugar, no artificial sweeteners, no calories). But more importantly, it looks really good in photos. A 12-pack case costs less than $6, making the brand a cheaper, photogenic Instagram alternative to avocado toast.
While other sparkling water companies had customers, La Croix had fans.
Trends are designed to pop. And yet, La Croix has exhibited tremendous staying power. Speculation over when, and how, the fizz will fall flat has been brewing for years. But the brand’s sales (and cultural reach) has only continued to grow.
Case in point: just this week, the alcohol-centric online magazine Punch came out with a definitive guide for building “a cocktail in your La Croix.” Maybe this is a sign we’ve finally reached peak La Croix. But that’s what we were saying last summer, too.