Food by VICE

Why Have So Many Canadians Never Heard of Clearly Canadian?

We explore the slow death and sudden rebirth of a brand that defined the 90s, and how in some ways, it defies its own name.

by Nick Rose
Sep 22 2016, 10:00pm

Photo courtesy of Clearly Canadian

Our love for the 90s knows no bounds. From music festivals to throwback bars to a chillwave remix of the Seinfeld theme, there is a lot of Millennial love for a decade that is already 17 years behind us.

And speaking of Seinfeld, do you know what Jerry Seinfeld drank on Seinfeld? Clearly Canadian, that's what. Back in the 90s, Clearly Canadian was the anti-soda; no artificial sweeteners, no artificial colours, just clean, clear, sweet soda with really loud bubbles.

The drink came in healthy-sounding flavours like Wild Cherry, Mountain Blackberry, Country Raspberry, and Orchard Peach, and was packaged in premium-looking teardrop-shaped glass bottles that oozed classiness. It was basically sweet, clear soda (almost 100 calories per 250 ml), but packaged and marketed like carbonated water, and it worked. Think LaCroix, but way sweeter.

By the mid-90s, Clearly Canadian was at the top of its game, raking in $150 million in annual sales across North America and Europe and pushing the boundaries of CGI in its ads. Just look at these TV commercials; using cutting-edge graphics, wailing saxophones, and catchphrases like, "Now, drink that thought!" and "Made with imported Canadian water," it's no wonder this drink was the shit. It made being Canadian sound really cool.

READ MORE: Gen-Y Nerds Revived a 90s Soda Because Reality Bites

But until yesterday, I didn't know any of this. I had never heard of Clearly Canadian, despite the fact that I, myself, am clearly Canadian. In fact, I was informed of the existence of this beverage through my American colleagues, who mocked me and called me a bad Canadian for not being aware of this seminal beverage and its cultural association to cult drink Orbitz.

Meanwhile, my Canadian colleagues went as far as accusing me of fabricating this brand—they had never heard of it either. How was this possible? How could Clearly Canadian be such a crucial part of some people's Generation X-era experience and nonexistent for others, even Canadians? How and why did Clearly Canadian just disappear off the market? (Also, why are my coworkers so hard on me?)

How could one brand and its weird commercials elicit such a strong reaction in me? To answer these questions, I had to look into the company's spotty past.

Turns out that the powerhouse brand died with a whimper, not a bang, and finally went out of production in 2009 after filing for bankruptcy, with just $12,000 to its name. At that point, Clearly Canadian was far from being the iconic brand it once was, and few people really noticed its disappearance.

In 2014, after a successful Indiegogo campaign, the company received 25,000 orders to revive the brand, and was slated to make a proper comeback among the grown-up Millennials who obviously missed it. But that resuscitation campaign hit a bit of a snag earlier this year, with Clearly Canadian failing to make orders on time, or at all.

Mountain Blackberry dreams were crushed. Orchard Peach wishes were not granted. And people were mad.

We spoke to Clearly Canadian and asked them to shed some light on the company's past, present, and future. Their response was insanely concise. "Why it went a way? Too much of a good thing. Why it came back? Love. Where things stand now? Alive," Clearly Canadian "Director of Energy" Jennifer Black told MUNCHIES. This didn't really shed any more light on Clearly Canadian, other than the fact that they are fueled by nostalgia.

READ MORE: McCain's Pizza Pockets As We Knew Them Are Gone

This is not the first 90s soda to make a comeback based on nostalgic consumer demand. In 2014, Coca Cola caved and brought SURGE back from the dead. Nor is it the only Canadian food tugging at the heartstrings of twenty- and thirtysomethings. Earlier this summer, McCain foods announced that they would be ending the production of its iconic childhood-snack-turned-stoner-classic Pizza Pockets. That announcement was met with denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance at VICE Canada offices.

In conclusion, what I learned from Clearly Canadian was a lesson in nostalgia being commodified. It's a bunch of grown-ups using soda (or pizza pockets, 0r decades-old music) to reconnect with their childhood—a time when they could be themselves; ignore issues like debt, mental health, and STDs; and just watch TV all day long. Those days are loooong gone, fellow Millennials, and buying soda will not bring them back.

That being said, I've never even had Clearly Canadian. I've just grown bitter—clearly.

Clearly Canadian