LaCroix and Topo Chico, two sparkling water brands that have become household names, continue to fuel Americans’ thirst for healthier soda alternatives. While neither brand is new — Topo Chico was founded more than 120 years ago and LaCroix just turned 41 — each has enjoyed a massive uptick in U.S. sales over the past several years.
As Bloomberg Businessweek details, LaCroix’s massive success helped drive the surge in sparkling water competitors, with its sales spiking to $800 million in 2018. Topo Chico’s sales were close to $130 million in 2019, a 39 percent increase from the previous year.
Today, consumers can find LaCroix’s brightly colored cans and Topo Chico’s retro bottles just about everywhere. Keep reading to learn more about these two ubiquitous brands that have taken the nation by storm.
Topo Chico was first bottled in 1895 near Monterrey, Mexico. Its name pays tribute to the Cerro del Topo Chico (“little mole hill”), a mountain which is the source of its naturally carbonated and, according to an Aztec legend, healing mineral waters. In 2017, Topo was acquired by Coca-Cola for $220 million.
The family-owned G. Heileman Brewing Company launched LaCroix in 1980. Based in La Crosse, Wisc., the brewery chose the name to honor the city and the St. Croix River that runs partially through the state. After the brewery fell into bankruptcy, the WinterBrook Beverage Group took over the brand in 1992. Changing owners did little to improve LaCroix’s fortunes, and eventually WinterBrook also filed for bankruptcy.
In 1996, the National Beverage Corp., known at the time for Shasta soda, took over LaCroix. CEO Nick Caporella’s devotion and vision for the sparkling water is credited with helping to rocket the flailing brand to success.
As The New York Times details, Topo’s water goes through a purification process before it is bottled, but its mineral composition, a combination of magnesium, calcium, sodium, potassium, and manganese, is not altered during this step. The company also adds carbonation, but “just enough to restore any fizziness lost during purification.”
LaCroix’s water source remains unknown. The company vaguely states that its water is sourced from various locations across the U.S., and that it uses a filtration process to remove impurities and additives. Both brands are calorie- and sugar-free, and state that their flavors are natural, though LaCroix’s claims about its ingredients led to a class-action lawsuit that was later dismissed.
In addition to LaCroix’s 20 “Core” flavors, the company also offers four healthy sodas (limited to certain parts of the country) and a “Cúrate” line of 12-ounce cans. Topo Chico has a more streamlined selection with just four offerings — original, lime, grapefruit, and tangerine. In 2021, the company added to the ever-growing hard seltzer market with four of its own boozy flavors, all clocking in at 4.7 percent ABV.
Both brands can be used as mixers in a medley of highballs, adding a fruity, citrus, or mineral layer depending on the variety chosen. However, there is one sparkling cocktail that diehard fans absolutely insist calls for Topo — the beloved Texas staple Ranch Water. Although its beginnings are murky, the combination of blanco tequila, lime juice, and Topo has, in recent years, become somewhat of a national obsession. Ranch Water aficionados credit Topo Chico’s high mineral content for its ability to perfectly complement tequila’s earthy and peppery notes.
What the Pros Think
Dana Epperson, the winemaker for Decoy, gives a cold bottle of Topo Chico the edge over LaCroix any day, and says it offers “an elevated experience” not replicated when drinking from a can. But as Epperson adds, it’s Topo’s carbonation that makes it really stand out. “I love the bubbles!” she says. “The bubbles in Topo Chico seem to have a better lingering effervescence than LaCroix.”
Taking a similar stance in the match-up, Margaret Link, the director of marketing at Boochcraft, says, “In a world of LaCroix, be a Topo Chico — fighting the tide of everything going into aluminum, Topo Chico elevates the experience of slamming bubbly water by offering a sleek, memorable glass bottle.”