To ensure you don’t mentally mispronounce anything while reading this article, I wanted to start by clearing up a common misconception: It’s not La Kwah or La Krah.
On their own website LaCroix says it’s pronounced La Croy. “It rhymes with ‘enjoy’” is the clever tagline they wrote to help people remember.
For a while I used the French pronunciation because I heard many people say it that way, including one of the “Queer Eye” guys. In my defense, it’s an understandable mistake. LaCroix has succeeded in positioning itself as a classy alternative to soda, and what’s classier than French stuff?
A beverage that originated in the 80s and was once limited to the Midwest, in the last few years LaCroix has exploded onto the national scale. Garish yet alluring towers of their packs often stand at the front of food markets, drug stores and bodegas. These displays show off the brand’s wide range of flavors, as well as its bright color palette. Whether it’s a married mom in Minnesota or a single woman in New York City, people are still going crazy for the brand of sparkling water.
Recently, however, consumers — even some diehard fans of the beverage — are starting to develop a grounded perception of LaCroix. On October 1 Chicago-based law firm Beaumont Costales announced it was filing a class action suit against LaCroix’s parent company. The plaintiffs have accused LaCroix of false advertising regarding their claims that the sparkling water is “all natural” or “100% natural.”
According to purported lab tests, LaCroix does contain ingredients that can be synthetic, such as linalool, a controversial chemical often used in fragrances and flavoring. The company still hasn’t publicly disclosed all of its ingredients, which has not helped their image.
In an effort to smear LaCroix, Beaumont Costales has repeatedly highlighted the fact that manufacturers have also included linalool as an ingredient in pesticides, including cockroach poison. This attack might not be fair, though.
“Another component pesticides and La Croix share: water,” noted Laurelei Litke, who works for HealthLabs.com, a company that helps consumers find affordable lab testing.
Regardless of whether the charges against the company are valid, consumers aren’t likely to win the case. There’s no legal definition for “natural,” so LaCroix isn’t making a claim when they leverage that language to market their celtzer.
“It strikes me that this lawsuit is frivolous,” said trends expert Daniel Levine, who has worked with major brands such as BMW and HBO. Levine asserted that LaCroix’s millennial fans have “very sensitive bullshit meters” and would ultimately not find the lawsuit legitimate.
Rule number one of running a successful cult: don’t tell your followers it’s a cult.
What might have been more damaging to the company was the negative press and the CEO’s bizarre response where he proudly described LaCroix as a cult. Rule number one of running a successful cult: don’t tell your followers it’s a cult. This revelation can be awkward for the less righteous people in the flock.
Despite these events, as well as waves of criticisms that have surged and receded since LaCroix’s spike in popularity around 2014, it doesn’t seem like the beloved beverage will be going anywhere. At this point the product has become a national staple. It might no longer be accurate to describe it as “trendy.”
Usually beverage trends die down or bomb because they are unsustainable, poorly marketed or not attached to larger cultural changes. Four Loko, the “blackout in a can” beverage that contained caffeine and alcohol, was all the rage in 2010 but was too volatile to avoid regulatory scrutiny. Crystal Pepsi was rolled out quickly, and the marketing team failed to make consumers understand that cola didn’t need to be brown. People in the 90s enjoyed Zima, but it wasn’t able to adapt to future generations.
The main reason LaCroix has flourished is because its leaders seized an opportunity to capitalize on societal shifts that are lasting and much bigger than a can of seltzer. Soda sales have been declining for years, leaving room for options that are still fizzy but relatively healthy. Because sparkling water has no calories or carbs, it often aligns with dieting and health trends such as the paleo and ketogenic diets. La Croix is also part of the “sugar avoidance macro trend,” according to Jennifer Kaplan, an author and Professor of Food Systems.
Unlike soda or alcohol, people can regularly consume large quantities of LaCroix without feeling guilty or worrying about their health. Constantly stocking your fridge with beer means you have a problem, but what about sparkling water?
“It’s definitely a habitual drink, not something young people enjoy occasionally, but something many begin to crave with every meal,” Litke said.
As far as beverages go, LaCroix is certainly a more sustainable addiction than other items on the shelf. Stephanie Etherington, an outpatient diabetes specialist, encourages her patients to choose “healthier options” such as LaCroix over soda and other sugary beverages.
“I think after the recent hype regarding the questionable ‘natural ingredients’ in La Croix, we will continue to see the beverages improve,” she said.
LaCroix could refine its formula to appease natural purists, and the brand is always developing new flavors that cultivate more customer loyalty. Levine predicted that the brand will survive and the lawsuit will be largely forgotten.
Trends usually experience deaths and rebirths, but LaCroix has barely slowed down. If you’re one of those people who is sick of LaCroix and wants it to go away, you might be waiting for a long time, maybe forever.
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