Those tiny bubbles sure make a beverage a treat, don’t they? Carbonation’s a big part of the appeal of many favorites, but you can only drink so much beer, Coke, 7-Up and champagne. You can even put those bubbles in plain water and make a product. LaCroix, a brand of the National Beverage Company (did you know their NASDAQ symbol is FIZZ?), in the 52 weeks ending 5/15/22, sold $549,444,493 of the stuff (1). LaCroix’s been around since’ 81, launched by a beer company (G. Heileman of LaCrosse WI, brewers of Old Style and Blatz), showing what an artsy-fartsy logo can do for brand consciousness (2). However, despite its place on the sales perch, LaCroix may not be America’s favorite sparkling water any more, with Pellegrino (from the Alps!), besting it in a recent survey (3). Turns out they don’t even have the #1 spot on the sales perch, as they were outsold by Sparkling Ice and Private Label.
You won’t find any “Private Label” on the shelves. They affix a label they design according to the customer’s suggestion (4). Remember that for your next party!
There are many others in this game now (5). We Americans aren’t the only suckers for fuzzy water, with the global sparkling water industry expected to reach a value of $67 billion by 2030.
At our Busch’s on Plymouth in Ann Arbor, a 12 pack of unflavored LaCroix will run you $6.49. With 72 oz in a 6-pack, that’s 9¢/oz. Then you’ve got that can to get rid of. Gretch neither takes nor gives a dime for those. When I lived in St. Louis in the early 80s and emptied many a can (not sparkling water), there was no container deposit law. There was, however, a place that would buy aluminum scrap, so I’d take over a garbage bag full periodically and come home with a few bucks. Right now, the average price for aluminum pop can scrap is $0.23/pound (6). A pop can (same as a LaCroix can) weighs half an ounce, thus netting you 23/32 = 0.72¢/can. So, to get a buck, you’ll have to drain 139 cans, almost 6 cases.
So, that love for fuzzy water comes at a cost. Might there be a way around it? Living in a desert, the Israelis have always found clever things to do with water. They draw and desalinate 75% of their drinking water from the Mediterranean Sea (7). When it came to having some fun with the water they’d got, they didn’t turn off those big brains.
With SodaStream, it was the case of those brains recognizing a good invention, buying it, and moving production to Israel, where it now does over a billion dollars a year in worldwide business (8). The device was invented in 1903 by a Brit, George Gilbey, who made most of his fortune distilling gin, and was sold as a plaything for the upper class. In ’55 a household model was introduced and became very popular in England. The design is very simple: CO2 from a pressurized cannister is fed through a control valve to a sturdy water bottle screwed onto the machine. Adequacy of the fill is marked when a “grunt” replaces the “fizz”. A tight cap assures pressure is maintained and the water remains fizzy in the fridge. Those wishing some flavor in their fizz can chose from an array of syrups (9). The only cost after buying the machine is refilling or replacing the CO2 cannister. Many hardware stores have exchange programs, and mail in service is available. SodaStream helpfully has provided a directory to both (10). SodaStream machines can had for about 90 bucks on Amazon (11), cheaper on eBay, of course. Here’s ours:
The 130L cannister, which means half as many trips to the hardware store, is no longer vended directly by SodaStream, but is available on Amazon (12).
A 60L cannister will carbonate 15 gallons of water. That’s 160 cans of LaCroix. SodaStream will sell you a new full cannister for 15 bucks then tack on another 15 for shipping. After that, you mail in your empty and they send you a full. Hardware store exchange costs are much less. But even at the top end, you’re getting 160 cans of fuzzy water for 30 bucks, a little over a nickel a can, 32¢ a 6-pack, $1.28 a case. With a new SodaStream going for about 90 bucks on Amazon (10), it’ll take 90 fills of their special 1L carbonating bottles to make back your purchase price, based on highest end CO2 replacement costs. The bottles are another cost. We rotate 4 through our refrigerator as we go through the stuff so fast. They’re not cheap – see this deal of 2 for 25 bucks (13) – but don’t try to use something else. It’ll neither handle the pressure nor hold the charge.
A few years back, while happy with the machine we were tiring of all the trips to the hardware store. SodaStream discontinued a larger cannister that of course required fewer trips. Whether it was the notion or the doohickey, we found another (and cheaper) way. Key to the operation is the doohickey, which screws one end onto a conventional 5 pound CO2 tank, like you might have to run your Corney keg, and the other – valve in between – to the empty 60L cannister (14).
It’s a slow process, good for an overnight, and of course it eventually empties the large cannister, which holds 5# of CO2, 1215 L, equivalent to 20 ¼ 60L cannisters. So, each 5# cannister will carbonate the equivalent of 3,240 cans of LaCroix. Since each 5# cannister has its tare weight etched on the side, you can use your bathroom scale to determine how close you are to empty.
We “refill” ours at the welding supply place south of town, actually just a swap out. Costs $28.32 after taxes. Figuring SodaStream will charge almost 30 buck to refill their little 60L cannister, it’s quite a deal. If you want some more math, that 5# cannister holds 20 ¼ 60L aliquots, so $1.40 for each 60L. The setup is a little cumbersome, but it gives the sunroom off the kitchen a little “industrial” look, and that’s always cool. Foreground and right in the crate is the 130L cannister, with the 60L in the background.
And now for the final exam. Here at Busch’s today were the prices on 3 popular fuzzy waters (actually, they were all on sale, but those never last).
LaCroix: $6.49/12 pack 12 oz cans)
Polar Ice: $1.59/L
Let’s start by converting them to 12oz equivalents.
Polar Ice: 56.4¢
Given that a 60L cannister of SodaStream CO2 will carbonate 160 12oz can equivalents, what would you spend at the store for this amount? As you compare, remember that 60L of CO2 will cost as much as $30 from SodaStream or as little as $1.40 if you use the 5# cannister refill system.
Polar Ice: $90.24
With the high-end CO2 cost at 30 bucks, and with homemade welding supply refill at $1.40, I think you can see the advantage. The capital costs ($90 for the SodaStream, $20 for the CO2 charger hookup) can be recouped quickly. Once again, math wins out. So, get yourself a SodaStream and watch FIZZ plummet on the NASDAQ!
Don Ho knew the score (15).
1. 2022 State of the Beverage Industry | Sparkling water shines in bottled water category. Beverage Industry 7/6/22. https://www.bevindustry.com/articles/95137-2022-state-of-the-beverage-industry-sparkling-water-shines-in-bottled-water-category
2. Halpern A. The Secret History of the LaCroix Label. Bon apétit 1/24/17. https://www.bonappetit.com/story/the-secret-history-of-the-lacroix-label#:~:text=LaCroix%20was%20founded%20in%201981,acquired%20by%20National%20Beverage%20Corp.
3. La Croix Is Not America’s Top Sparkling Water, According To A New Survey. Mashed 7/25/22. https://www.mashed.com/934021/la-croix-is-not-americas-top-sparkling-water-according-to-a-new-survey/
4. My Private Label. Sparkling and Spring Water. https://myprivatelabelbeverages.com/water-regular-sparkling-alkaline
5. Sparkling Water at Retail: Category Growth Decelerated Late in 2021 as Pricing Jumped. Beverage Digest 3/30/22. https://www.beverage-digest.com/articles/654-sparkling-water-at-retail-category-growth-decelerated-late-in-2021-as-pricing-jumped
6. Scrap Monster. Aluminum Scrap Prices Paid by Scrap Yards in Michigan, United States. https://www.scrapmonster.com/scrap-yard/price/aluminum-scrap/michigan/1/3387
7. Lindell R. A closer look at how Israel manages its precious water resources. Northwestern Now 10/19/22. https://news.northwestern.edu/stories/2022/10/global-engineering-trek-israel-water/#:~:text=The%20country%20now%20draws%20and,Israel%20repurposes%20nearly%2090%20percent.
8. White G. SodaStream: The Story Behind The $1 Billion Do-It-Yourself Seltzer Phenomenon. Business Insider 5/18/11. https://www.businessinsider.com/what-is-sodastream-2011-5
9. sodastream Bubly Drops 6 Flavor, Original Variety Pack, 1.36 Fl Oz ( Pack of 6). Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/sodastream-Bubly-Flavor-Original-Variety/dp/B08MB245WZ/ref=sr_1_5?crid=1GJF2ZYDJESH7&keywords=sodastream+flavorings&qid=1677683611&sprefix=sodastream+flavorings%2Caps%2C133&sr=8-5
10. SodaStream. Refill and Exchange CO2 Gas Cylinders. https://sodastream.com/pages/refill-exchange
11. SodaStream Fizzi, Sparkling Water Maker, Black. Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/SodaStream-Touch-Sparkling-Water-Starter/dp/B07GBJ9NYR/ref=sr_1_3?crid=2WBBNACVTHPW5&keywords=sodastream+fizzi+one+touch+sparkling+water+maker&qid=1677683869&sprefix=sodastream+fizzi%2Caps%2C137&sr=8-3&ufe=app_do%3Aamzn1.fos.08f69ac3-fd3d-4b88-bca2-8997e41410bb
12. SodaStream Co2 Spare, 130-Liter Carbonator. Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/SodaStream-Co2-Spare-130-Liter-Carbonator/dp/B004ILOE4A?th=1
13. Sodastream 1L Carbonating Bottles – Fit to Source/Genesis deluxe Makers (Twin Pack) (White). Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Sodastream-1l-Carbonating-Bottles-Genesis/dp/B00HYJCVKC/ref=sr_1_4?crid=20RJ029TZJ2NY&keywords=sodastream&qid=1677598000&sprefix=soda%2Caps%2C118&sr=8-4
14. CO2 Cylinder Refill Adapter with Ball Valve for Sodastream CO2 Tank Connector. Amazon. https://www.ebay.com/itm/175471176551?hash=item28dae5ab67:g:NbUAAOSwLfxjX40U&amdata=enc%3AAQAHAAAA4Jd983Wul2l597l9nak4ECHFf42nMAH2zSsJLMZtr%2FGe2QlELpeL35GYeRy1POVsg6NP%2FS%2FNQfgja7GZnWbvz%2FbFnj4wGTPTlcONPeNHtP8TgiYtTkOGMDvOSv9c6Z9MeNdfd%2FjIJadmQC0iowdL2Gm73k8lNIBJqcdTcfPMRLCM4zUEMz77d4eTy9sGmV39Smu88tdBBG0CcCB%2BkZR0AyGQDkBAphzDUTK8ELnTHFsEe8z%2BHUF8w2e7x%2Bo2foXWBBbNZVseVBaK%2FYkgtjkeBm3HcCgSdy30SFCreuo%2BTFiJ%7Ctkp%3ABFBM-JzAi9Nh
15. Don Ho sings “Tiny Bubbles”. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muEFD_odvUg