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The carbonated non-alcoholic beverage market is exploding. We’ve reported on it before, but the craft soda industry is among the fastest growing categories at the moment. And you’ve surely noticed not only the rise in non-alcoholic beers, wines, and spirits, but the sheer ubiquity of crafty seltzers, juices, and better-for-you sodas is staggering.
As the shelves at your local bodega sag under the weight of cans and cans of the myriad of well-designed seltzers, it becomes increasingly difficult to decide which ones deliver on their promises of refreshment and flavor. As a self-proclaimed seltzer expert I can confidently tell you that not all sparkling water tastes the same. And I’m not even talking about the flavored ones. Growing up, my family was firmly devoted to Vintage brand seltzer. Since then I’ve expanded my palate and found my own favorites.
Among my most recent discoveries is Sanzo Sparkling Water. Sanzo sells four seltzer options – Calamansi, Yuzu & Ginger, Mango, and Lychee – inspired by the authentic flavors of Asian fruit. The pitch is pretty simple: no added sugar, all real fruit puree, and refreshing carbonated water. And I’ll admit that as someone who tends to steer clear of flavored sparkling water, I was seriously impressed.
I sat down with founder Sandro Roco over a Zoom call to chat more about the inspiration behind Sanzo’s flavor profiles and how the brand managed to deliver a high quality sparkling water in such a competitive market.
Sparkling Water with a Personal Touch
Sanzo’s elevator pitch is that it’s a sparkling water flavored with native Asian fruit. Rather than rely on the standard berries and citrus fruits commonly used in seltzers, founder Sandro Roco tapped into his own history and recalled the flavors he grew up with as a Filipino American in New Jersey and New York.
That attention to detail and authenticity is key to Sanzo’s success. While the flavors are delicious on their own, it’s clear that they represent something more. In Roco’s eyes, Sanzo is one of the first products he’s come across in chain grocery stores that truly reminds him of home.
When launching a product, it’s important to develop something that people enjoy. In this case, the sparkling water needed to taste good. But, the story and the values of Sanzo help cement the seltzer brand as one worth caring about.
“In the beginning we had been called super niche, and not always in positive ways,” Roco says. “But we've seen enough customers disprove that statement.”
Sanzo launched in the summer of 2019 and has been steadily growing in size, scale, and reach. Before starting Sanzo Sparkling Water, Roco had a remarkably diverse career starting by working as a chemical engineer in a nuclear power plant, dabbling in the world of investment banking, and then launching an online apparel styling startup. In his mind, Sanzo is the culmination of all his professional work.
“I never would have imagined that my previous three jobs would have tied together in any way,” Roco shares with a laugh. But his work in engineering prepared Roco for the rigors of manufacturing and production while his experience launching another company and understanding the financial world helped bring his concept of Asian-inspired sparkling water to life.
Bridging Cultures with Sparkling Water
From Sanzo’s inception, Roco wanted his seltzer brand to be an extension of his own experiences.
“For better or worse, the brand is a reflection of my own personal journey,” says Roco. “We’re living in a time right now where there’s a massive bridging of cultures happening, a real interest in Asian-inspired food, goods, and consumer products. And we see ourselves being the beverage manifestation of that. In a category like seltzer which is so huge, we see ourselves as offering some level of flavor differentiation, but ultimately in a super accessible medium. We don't have to tell you anything about it other than here's the can, pop it open – hopefully you like it.”
The language of seltzer is universal. And Roco has used it as a blank canvas, a palate cleanser, to bring the flavors of his culture to light. In his mind, a calamansi seltzer is an extremely easy sell. And as Sanzo continues to gain fans, it seems like he’s proven right.
“I love specifically the accessibility of sparkling water,” shares Roco. “If you don't have to educate someone as much about the product, that means you can do more storytelling about whatever else that you want to talk about.”
Part of the difficult balance in the Sanzo Sparkling Water journey is that seltzer is a relatively universal, accessible beverage but Roco has made it clear that he wants to bring forward a personal, lived experience through his product. The high quality flavors and authentic branding help bridge that gap and bring more and more drinkers into the world of Sanzo.
The Flavors of Sanzo Sparkling Water, Analyzed
“The product itself is simple enough to sell itself,” Roco says. “Sparkling water is good. It’s up to you to create a universe around it.”
And Sanzo has managed to make sparkling water fun by drawing from a rich history of Asian flavors:
This is probably my favorite flavor. The blend of citrus and ginger results in a zippy, slightly spicy, delicious seltzer. The most recently released flavor, Yuzu has been met with great reception. It’s fairly close to the flavors you’d find in other sparkling water here in the states. “It’s quickly become a fan favorite,” remarked Roco.
Roco recalled that calamansi was the first flavor he experimented with. “I had it several times as a child when I would visit family in the Philippines and it was typically used like a garnish,” shares Roco. “If you're not familiar with it, imagine a lime and an orange had a baby.”
Lychee was an easy option for Sanzo. In Roco’s eyes, folks had enough of an association with lychee flavor in Asian-inspired cuisine that they’d gravitate toward it as a flavor in the Sanzo lineup. It’s sweet, light, and floral.
As one of the most consumed fruits in the world, mango was yet another no-brainer. It’s enjoyed across different continents and is used in a variety of cuisines. So, as a way to continue the conversation of bridging cultures, Roco made alphonso mango a flagship flavor for Sanzo.
Each 12-pack of flavors is $30 and a mixed sampler 12-pack is $35. We recommend starting with a variety pack and seeing where Sanzo takes you – it’s bound to be a sweet ride.
5 More Reason to Love Sanzo:
- Sanzo’s influence has grown beyond just seltzer. The brand entered the movie world and partnered with both Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings as well as Pixar’s Turning Red to help promote powerful Asian-American stories.
- Feel good about drinking Sanzo: in addition to using real fruit with no added sugar, it’s naturally gluten-free, vegan, and non-GMO.
- You can order all of Sanzo’s sparkling water online but, if you’re looking for an IRL experience, Sanzo is also stocked at a bunch of retailers like Whole Foods, Sprouts, and more.
- Sanzo is a great option for cocktails and mocktails. Add your favorite spirit to your favorite Sanzo flavor, garnish with some fresh herbs and fruit, and enjoy!
- Sanzo is always working on new flavor ideas so if you have feedback or suggestions, connect with the brand on social media to stay up to date on the latest launches.