In a world of boring, big brand foods that increase revenue all of 3% per year, the fruit-infused sparkling water maker La Croix quadrupled its sales between 2010 and 2015, pulling in $226 million in revenue annually as of last count.
But it’s not just another sugar-free alternative to Coke products. La Croix has become something of a pop culture icon, a seemingly homegrown Instagram star, complete with its own, fan-made custom meme generator. And that’s as much thanks to its quirky, ’90s-kid splash packaging as anything else–like a Dixie Cup crossed with Zubaz pants–a bit of branding that La Croix producer National Beverage didn’t want to talk about when we spoke in 2016.
Now, Bon Appetit has tracked down the story behind the carbonated legend. The packaging traces back to 2002, when National Beverage hired Lyle Zimmerman, who had created packages for Coca-Cola and General Mills, to create a new brand. And while we don’t want to spoil the whole story (which you can read in full here), it’s a fascinating little tale. Zimmerman generated about 20 options for La Croix packaging, which included long lean letters and hyper-minimal modernist designs. National Beverage preferred the minimalist, which would make La Croix at home next to premium competitors like Perrier. But consumers preferred a different brand in testing, the vibrant, liquid color explosion that is the La Croix we know so well today.
What’s remarkable is that, if you think about it, the rebrand took almost a decade to explode. It wasn’t until around 2010, with health-conscious millennials hitting their mid-twenties and early thirties, potentially looking to sip on a bit of nostalgia for the jazzy graphic design of their youth, that Zimmerman’s brilliant play panned out. And it prompts the question, even in the snap judgment age of social media, should we really judge a brand for what it represents today, or what it can mean to a company 10 years from now?