Why Southerners Have Always Loved Fresca, The 1960s Zero-Sugar Soda

This grapefruit soft drink is back in the spotlight with new canned cocktails.

Photo: Southern Living/Coca Cola Company

Before flavored sparkling water became the biggest canned drink craze, there was Fresca. The grapefruit soda was launched in 1967 as the second "zero sugar" drink from the Coca-Cola company—after the launch of Tab in 1963—to the utter joy of many, including my Southern grandmother and even her own mother who, I'm told, became quite the instant fanatic and drank it ferociously. Now, I can't help but love it, too.

So, what made this citrusy soft drink so appealing to so many? It's the kind of drink that once you taste it, you can easily get hooked. It toes the line between classic soda and flavored sparkling water, which is why it garnered instant hype from those in search of a "healthier" alternative to full-sugar Coke, but a better-tasting option than seltzer water back in 1967. Put simply, it's incredibly refreshing. Since then, the recipe and packaging has been tweaked, but the essence and flavor remains largely the same: "Think fresh, think Fresca," which was once a marketing jingle used for the drink.

The Original Citrus flavor is almost similar to a Sprite, but with grapefruit flavor and less of a saccharine bite. It was actually first marketed as a zero-sugar, calorie-free soda alternative, as well as a mixer for alcoholic beverages, in order to reach a wider customer base. In the South, where the days were hot and always in need of a cold beverage—booze or no booze—Fresca more than fit the bill and could be found at the gas station, golf course, or the fridge at home. However, despite being one of the most popular sodas at one time, it became relatively unknown to younger generations and, apparently, more difficult to come across on the aisles. The official Instagram account of Fresca USA even states, "Spoiler Alert: We're hard to find. But worth the wait."

That is, until the brand recently announced a line of canned cocktails that launched on the market in September 2022, giving new life to the retro drink. It's now available in two flavors, one of which is Fresca blended with vodka to make a Vodka Spritz and the other a Fresca-tequila combination to make a Tequila Paloma.

Every once in a while, I crave the taste of an ice-cold can of Fresca, and nothing else can quench it until I find myself grabbing it at the nearest grocery store. Often, these cravings come while sweating it out on the beach or heading to a boat day on a lake. Any Fresca-loving Southerner would understand that a hot day is the absolute ideal time to crack open a Fresca, and I can thank my grandmother for that cool sip.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles