How Come Everyone's Suddenly Drinking Seltzer?

Find out how sparkling water — once considered the purview of snooty Perrier drinkers — became so popular with mainstream U.S. folk.

Seltzer may not be the most-flavorful drink in the fridge, but that hasn’t prevented it, in recent years, from rising like a carbonated bubble to its current status high up on America’s preferred list of beverages.

The Washington Post notes that, while sales of regular and diet soda and “vitamin” drinks have flattened and declined over the past decade like the contents of a half-consumed can, sales of Perrier, San Pellegrino and their fizzy ilk have more than doubled over the last five years, reaching, at last measure, around $1.5 billion — a growth that has exceeded even that of other bottled waters.

How, exactly, did sparkling water — once considered the purview of snooty Perrier drinkers — become so popular with mainstream U.S. folk? It may have more to do what’s not in it — the calories, sodium, and artificial sweeteners found in both regular and diet soft drinks — than what is.

Average cola consumption in the United States has declined year after year amidst obesity fears and is now at nearly 20-year low, the Post reports. Consumption of diet sodas has also declined, since people are also concerned about artificial sweeteners. Even Vitaminwater sales are drifting downward, following criticism over the product's sugar content and allegedly overblown health claims. Meanwhile, bottled-water sales have skyrocketed, yet people are looking for an alternative to regular old H2O.

"Consumers still like bubbles, they want carbonation, but they want it in a healthier product," Gary Hemphill, the managing director of research for industry consulting firm Beverage Marketing Corp., told the Post, adding that products like LaCroix Sparkling Water and Sparkling Ice "really fit where the consumer wants to be."

Perrier and San Pellegrino maker Nestlé is set to expand its array of flavored sparkling waters (green apple Perrier, anyone?), update its can design and ramp up its U.S. production capabilities. But are consumers really ready to make the full-on switch from soda to H2O, even if does bubble and fizz?

Perrier, unsure if younger consumers will be willing to shell out for fancy water, is placing its bets on people in their 30s, Nestlé Waters marketing manager Muriel Kock recently told Beverage Daily, because they “are more aware of sugar intake, naturalness and [are] keener to discover new tastes." Or lack thereof.

Photo courtesy of iStock
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