01 September, 2009

BPA and Water Bottles


I recently received an e-mailed press release from Klean Kanteen, those are the folks who import the stainless steel water battles we sell. Here's the interesting bit:

Recent news in the outdoor industry has once again brought much attention and questioning about the presence of the chemical, bisphenol-a (BPA), in reusable bottles. In an August 19, 2009, article by SNEWS, popular bottle makers, Sigg and Laken, publicly acknowledged for the first time that every aluminum bottle made and sold by their companies prior to August 2008 was knowingly lined with an epoxy resin containing BPA. Many scientific studies indicate BPA has the potential to act as an endocrine-disrupter when ingested, and fetuses, infants, and children are most susceptible to develop negative human health effects associated with BPA such as diabetes, heart disease, cancers, infertility, obesity, and neurological disorders.
Now I don't know if this is just aggressive marketing hype or a real concern, but I, and my family, switched to using only stainless steel water bottles a few years ago. In fact I own several aluminum (and some plastic) bottles that haven't been used in years; no point in taking chances with BPA.

All this got me thinking, or speculating, about Klean Kanteen. It's an interesting business. These stainless bottles have been made for some time by several factories in China. The quality of some is very good, but others are marginal. I know because we've recently been looking at samples from several factories. Kleen Kanteen seems to import some of the better ones, puts their name on them, and markets the hell out of them. It's a nice Kleen business model and KK seems to have done everything right. I admire the company. But I see it as a business model with low entry barriers; it's not terribly capital or development intensive while having good growth potential. In other words it is not a "deep moat" business. That means that other companies can easily jump in and be competitors. I suspect that there are few proprietary designs, unique products, or exclusivity agreements with manufacturers. A business of this sort is primary based on brand name, marketing, and distribution. So a company, like Velo Orange for example, that has distribution and marketing infrastructure in place could easily jump the moat and be a competitor.

But should we be a competitor? I have always been uncomfortable with distributors who set minimum prices or even minimum advertised prices. I also don't like the fact that we can no longer get the bottles without a logo. And we can't sell the current bottles to the almost 200 VO dealers. So that's why we've been looking at sample bottles from various factories. A container of stainless steel bottles is not a small investment, but paying for another company's advertising, when we don't benefit from it, is not a wise investment. Hmmm.

54 comments:

Erik B said...

I can't imagine it would be worth the trouble. If you read (and believe) the Kleen Kanteen website, they do regular monitoring and testing to ensure that their product is safe, among other things.

"Every three to four months the science division of EMSL Analytical, Inc., a lab based in Westmont, N.J., tests the elemental composition of metal in Klean Kanteens™ for hazardous substances."

I buy stainless bottles from VO both because of environmental and health concerns - unless VO was going to go through the same type of KK testing, I wouldn't buy a VO bottle just to save a few bucks.

Matt said...

I've got a couple of Kleen Kanteens from you a couple of years ago. Nice enough, rattle in the cages a bit, pretty simple merchandise. What I'd think about is a vacuum-insulated stainless bottle. bicyclecoffeesystems talks about the Jong-Won JSB500. I have a couple of these I bought from a Precious Memories booth in the mall ten years ago and they are fabulous. In the winter, they'll keep coffee too hot to drink for an hour here in Minnesota; in the summer, 1.5 gin and tonics on the rocks fits perfectly and stays icy cold for a couple of hours no problem. You can't get them any longer but I treasure mine. Elevengear offers a 700ml one and I bought one but the top is ill-fitting and leaks. A good ss vac bottle that fits in a cage would be a useful item.

Chris Kulczycki said...

The better factories offer the same 18/8 food-grade stainless steel and it is relatively simple to check that that is what is used.

bmike said...

wow. guess drinking from my sigg bottle explains why i'm overweight, borderline high blood pressure, and generally irritable.

i should throw them all out and get a kleen kanteen!


any thoughts on labor practices at the factories these are made in? and while my water may be safe(r), what about the environmental degradation going on in china...

and does the same factory punch out lead coated bowls on shift a, then switch to formaldehyde laced milk containers on shift b, to kleen kanteens on shift c?

big picture stuff for sure. no easy answers and even harder to zero in on which questions are even worth asking.

should vo become another knockoff water bottle maker? maybe - if you offer some value specifically to cycling / cyclotourists / etc. if not, i'll stick with my soma / riv bpa free plastic for now. and not listen to my cages rattle.

Anonymous said...

I bought one 40 oz KK a while back and wouldn't trade it for the world, though as someone who knows a little bit about metals and manufacturing I still can't believe I paid $28 for it. I don't know if you could undersell them by all that much, but a little competition surely wouldn't hurt them. I know I'd own about 4 of the bottle cage sized models and probably give a lot as gifts if they weren't so blasted expensive.

On the flip side, I was comfortable overpaying for the first one because I knew as the first entrant into the market and a seemingly well-run company they would probably never go away, so I would be assured of being able to buy replacement lids, which is the only thing you could ever break on these.

Also FWIW their orange powdercoat color is ugly as sin, so that's reason enough to get into these :)

(j/k, I know you'd probably keep it to stainless)

Erik B, do you demand this level of testing out of your cookware and dishware suppliers?

Pierce Boaz said...

this is the same liner that actually chips off and comes out into the water, and they claimed it was safe to eat. i think i'll get a klean kanteen but i have to say i would like a bottle with that nice VO logo on it.

Anonymous said...

Rather than going through all the hassle of selling bottles yourself, just send a piece of steel wool along with every bottle.

If someone doesn't want the logo, they'll know what to do with the steel wool...

If SS bottles were your best selling item and you couldn't keep them in stock, making your own would make sense. But my guess is, the market for such a thing is fairly saturated already. Spend yer time and development dollars on something else.

Anonymous said...

What about those Japanese ones? Zoshiri or something? They make coffee caraffes and I have seen their bottles too.
M Burdge

Anonymous said...

So. . . the success of KK seems to lean pretty heavily on fearmongery. Is the marketing department at VO any good at that?

brandon said...

I have two New Wave Enviro stainless steel 1 liter sport cap water bottles and i like them ok... The sport cap works but you have to suck a little too hard and they are a little too big for the vo retro cages, you have to bend the cages, and its still a pain to get them in and out. If you could make a better sport cap and either a cage that handles a one liter steel bottle or a large water bottle that fits into a standard cage i would be very interested and buy a good bit and give some away....a good sport (pop up?) cap is really what you need, similar to the sigg sport cap... Stainless is the way to go for sure.
Brandon

dan.liu said...

Well, it depends on how you look at it! On the one hand, KK sells stainless steel bottles, just like many dozens of others do as well. Target, Fred Meyer, even Walmart all sell an almost-identical bottle for far less money. The only physical difference I've seen is the varying quality of plastic tops.

Less tangible advantages are branding and distribution. Kleen Kanteen have very good branding, name recognition, etc., which is different and distinct from Velo Orange's. The two of you also have different distribution channels: I can easily see bike shops that work through your wholesaler Tom ordering a few VO-branded bottles just because they're already putting in the order.

Here's a thought though! Why not make something different? Kleen Kanteen has always turned me off because the larger bottles don't fit well in standard cages, and their own custom cage is awful. Perhaps roll a stainless bottle with a lower indentation for standard cages? Or make your own cage for the existing 27oz or 40oz bottles? How about a cage for their newer widemouth bottles?

Speaking of which: Chris, how well do the cages you sell work with stainless bottles? How about thermoses? I have a half-quart Stanley thermos that hasn't fit into any of my cages, so I use some toe straps and loop it under my Brooks with the saddlebag hoops. It works pretty good, but a better cage would be...better!

redvic said...

leave the water bottles to water bottle vendors, and stick to bikes.

Gunther said...

I'd definitely buy a VO SS bottle if you paired it with a SS cage that had the VO look and no rattle. The bottle cages that come with the KK bottles work very effectively, but the black plastic doesn't jive with the VO aesthetic or my ride, so there is room for improvement here.

Anonymous said...

I have three problems with steel bottles:

I don't like the scrape of metal on metal when you use a steel bottle with a steel or aluminum cage. I realize it is inherent with the product, so it's probably not possible to address without coating something in plastic.

Second, You can't squeeze a steel bottle.

Third, they really are heavy. If you were to do a cycling specific bottle, you should take pains to make it a thin-wall as possible. I realize I sound like a weight weenie, but it is a concern.

seo said...

I purchased a stainless steel waterbottle from (eek!) wal-mart that fits perfectly in my waterbottle cage, has an attractive and simple top with a build in lid to cover the "bottle-mouth interface", no logo, and at the price of 4 dollars (maybe a little less). Its about 16 oz, and doesnt rattle in the cage in the slightest. Im SURE you can make one cheaper than kleen kanteen.

wirehead said...

When the Sigg thing hit the news, I started snickering, because I was right in that little voice in my head that there was something going on... yet I was sickened by the idea that people who were afraid of BPA just got screwed.

I don't entirely trust Klean Kanteen's assertion that stainless steel bottles are free from leaching. There's a higher-spec alloy of stainless that brewers and winemakers use and they don't. I get a metalic taste out of my KK bottle on occasion.

The thing that Klean Kanteen has is a brand. A trusted-sounding brand with a lot of viral noises. A certain audience is going to buy a KK bottle because of the implicit trust. Only selling branded bottles helps build that.

I'm going to echo what everybody else is saying. Don't compete with KK, do something different and better.

I've got a 1L Laken bottle. It fits in a bottle cage like the larger KK bottles don't. It's nice for that extra 200mL of water that means that I can bike a little longer without worrying about how far I am from a refill.

I also want a real vacuum flask (Not just insulated. Vacuum flask... there's a difference) in bike-bottle form with reasonable capacity. In fact, if I may be so picky, I'd like to be able to fill it with a nice hot cup of tea and carabiner it to somewhere useful, like I do with my Sigg bottle, *or* stick it in a bottle cage filled with ice water and drink from it without taking both hands off of the handlebars. Probably takes two caps, but that's OK.

This is relatively unexplored compared to the present un-insulated lineup out there which is, likely, close to saturated.

I tend to think, and I'm not even a proper velo-orange-eur, if you need to squeeze your water bottle to drink a lot of water quickly, you may not be the target audience. :D

cm said...

I have a 40 oz KK that I have been drinking out of everyday for the last several years and have to say that it is.... perfectly ok-- not great, not terrible. It gets hotter than it should when the liquid isnt that hot and gets colder than it should when the liquid isnt that cold. And it dings kinda easy. That said, it is a great fashion accessory and looks much cooler than any plastic bottle ever could--even those shaped like tiki heads.

I have also worked in the outdoor industry for about a decade and think that most of this BPA stuff is just stuff (not to mention that most companies have now removed BPA from their production). Nalgene was at the top of the world for so long-- it was only a matter of time until someone found something. I am not saying that BPA is not a concern, but $30 stainless bottle from China are not the only or obvious solution either.

As for VO, stay out of an already crowded market where you have nothing much to contribute except a cheap copy of a decent (not great) product.

Anonymous said...

will it come out next week that stainless bottles are even worse than bpa plastic due to the toxic heavy metals (chromium and nickel) needed to make the steel stainless? would glass or ceramic (lining at least--see thermos) be better?

Anonymous said...

VO needs to make a custom cage to hold these (especially for the 27 oz. bottle).

Chris Kulczycki said...

All three VO bottle cages work well with stainless bottles. But most any steel cage will work if you just bend it in a touch. You can also bend the hook back a tiny bit if you like. Our cages won't break if you bend them a little.

Anonymous said...

The finest water bottle was made and continues to be made by Specialized. Sure, if you drink from it continually 24/7/365 w/o a break, and eventually chew and digest a few dozen, something bad will happen, but barring that....
The KISS rule applies.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone direct me to a really good study of BPA? The few studies I've seen basically say that they've found it does bad stuff to rats and mice - there hasn't been much research on humans.

Seems like mostly marketing hype. Personally, I won't pay more than a few bucks for a water bottle and I won't worry about BPA. Maybe if I had a baby I'd think differently but I have seen NOTHING that shows a solid link between BPA and health hazards for adults. Not trying to troll - I really am curious if there is a good study out there?

Anonymous said...

1. My local Costco has stainless bottles that look like KK. But the packaging says its not for use with hot liquids. Any idea why?

2. I've never had a Specialized bottle. What's so good about them?

--Wayne Jacobsen

Chandra said...

There is one thing I do not like about KK bottles. They are not double walled. So, if you put ice in your bottle, it sweats a lot. Though more expensive, I like CamelBak's Insulated Stainless Steel Bottle. I still use the KK bottles but for other purposes. There is a similar one from CycleAware called Torpedo. I don't care for it. Its design and functionality are inferior compared to CamelBak's, IMHO.

Peace :)

Andrew said...

How about a thin walled stainless bike bottle that has a coating on the _outside_ so that it doesn't rattle in the cage?

lee.watkins said...

I only use glass bottles. Metal and plastic bottles make the water taste like, well, metal or plastic. Gross!

And yeah, BPA is really REALLY bad for you. Of course there is lots of other stuff that's bad for you in the plastic, besides the BPA.

Glass bottles are easier to get clean and look nice. I especially like the ones with the ceramic swing-top lids. They last forever. I've never had any problem with glass.

If you want to keep something hot or cool those neoprene zip-covers work really well.

Anonymous said...

I tend to care a bit less about the look of a bottle than some, apparently. To me they are among the most abused accessory, and the most easily lost, so it has never made sense to me to pay real money for them. Yes, I'm vain enough to try to get a nice one sometimes, but just barely. Since I consider bottles disposable, I would much rather have a discussion about recycling than any of the issues named so far.

Uncle Ankle said...

I think you should focus on the stuff that other manufacturers don't even realise are crucial.

Like a Shimano-indexing, proper-front-upshifting SunTour Command shifter clone, for example.

peidave said...

"Every three to four months the science division of EMSL Analytical, Inc., a lab based in Westmont, N.J., tests the elemental composition of metal in Klean Kanteens™ for hazardous substances."

Hmmmm - all hazardous substances?

I don't trust a company that makes a claim like this one. Without a list of what the tests are for the claim is essentially worthless.

I agree with anonymous here:
"The finest water bottle was made and continues to be made by Specialized. Sure, if you drink from it continually 24/7/365 w/o a break, and eventually chew and digest a few dozen, something bad will happen, but barring that....
The KISS rule applies."

The endocrine disruption issue is mostly a concern for babies and pre-natal.

I also think "why should I advertise for another company?" with any logo Kleen Kanteen or VO... though VO logos tend to be more subtle.

And agree that VO should be making things that are hard to get otherwise.

Anonymous said...

When I was a kid, in addition to the Canadian or Blue in stubbies, all the rockers a bit older than I was carried wineskins to the bush parties. For you know, wine. But how VO would that be? A wineskin? It would look a little like a messenger bag, but could carry your drinkables in style. (it could even have a second strap a la a courier bag, so it wouldn't slip.) I am serious on this one. Wine skins. I bet you could find an elegant leather crafter to make the outer skin, and they could be lined with something safe and tasteless/odourless. Niche market, collapsable, elegant, environmentally friendly, kind of french.
M Burdge

Anonymous said...

my friend sandblasted his KK... got a nice dull grippy finish, and no more logos.

Charles said...

There is no harm in the epoxy liner used in the Sigg water bottles.

Yes, the epoxy contains BPA(as does most epoxy), but when the epoxy is cured(in the finished product) the BPA is inert.

Also, not that Coca Cola is terribly good for you, Coca Cola and other manufacturers of canned products used epoxy(with BPA) as can liners.

If Coca Cola can sit in a BPA-Epoxy lined can, and not eat through it, then I think that BPA-epoxy resin should pose little to no risk to the human digestive system.

Anonymous said...

As I rode home today with my KK clanking in its VO cage and my wonderful 8-speed Ultegra brifter perfectly snicking through the gears, these thoughts were going through my mind: I'm using a plastic bottle tomorrow (I love the silence and the squeeze) and I really wish someone would make Ultegra/XT shifters designed for 7 or 8 speed cassettes. Market it as an "adventure" group and get both the randonneurs and some of the more traditional off roaders. All you'd really need are shifters at first, most everything else is still made and 9-speed derailleurs seem to work OK with 8 cogs. Maybe a derailleur and another part or two at some point just so you can call it a "grouppo".
Dan S., Wisconsin

Le Cagot said...

I've ridden for over a year with KK bottles in VO Moderniste cages without any rattles at all. If they rattle you can just squeeze the cage inward a little.

Anonymous said...

KK = Krispy Kreme, folks.....

Erik said...

For any of you who are concerned about BPA in your Sigg Bottles, they are offering an exchange program, allowing you to swap older bottles out for ones with their EcoCare liner.
http://mysigg.com/bulletin/exchange_program.html

wirehead said...

I have a specialized bike bottle. It may not taint your water with harmful compunds, but it does make your water taste nasty after a few hours.

The problem with any single-thin-walled bottle, plastic or metal or even glass, is that if you put hot liquids in it, the casing will quickly reach similar temperatures as the liquid. For metal, very quickly. Thus, if you put hot coffee in your single-walled metal bottle, you will not be able to hold it. Adding a second wall, preferably with either insulation or a vacuum, makes that not happen. And, because the liquid isn't heating up the walls, it stays hot longer, too.

I suspect that, in the end, the real science about safe BPA levels is a few years off. But, as people are spazzing out now, that's a few years too late. Furthermore, there's nothing to say that everybody won't buy some magical BPA-free bottle and find out that it also can be made to emit harmful chemicals under normal use.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the stainless bottles are kind of on the heavy side.

Will there be a drillium version offered ?

Anonymous said...

If you are just going to import bottles of the same type and quality as Kleen Kanteen, then I do not see the point of doing so.

If you offer something better, then at least there will be a reason to choose it.

Anonymous said...

I would never recommend buying any metal product from China that you are going to eat/drink or handle, they are notorious for mixing scrap metals of lower quality and passing it off as a higher standard.

I like the Nalgene bottles as they are unbreakable easy to fill,and hold a lot.

Anonymous said...

After I wrote my earlier comment about KK bottles rattling, I thought about how nasty the water tastes from plastic bottles (BPA or no) and so now I'm thinking, keep the KK, squeeze the cage tighter, and if needed, apply little bits of tape here and there. The nice squeezing action available in plastic bottles, well, I can get used to that being gone.

DS, WI

Anonymous said...

Dan S:

http://www.chainreactioncycles.com/Models.aspx?ModelID=13638

"105 level", apparently.

brandon said...

Here is a thought;
Seriously,
HOw about a nicely made TITANIUM one liter sport bottle with a really good sport cap?
im serious about this...It would be great, I love my titanium camp cooking pot, so light!

alan said...

Just a few observations:
1. KK bottles tend to rattle in my VO cages unless you bend the cages to fit them snugly, not only because they are slightly smaller in diameter than SIGG, but because the bottoms are somewhat rounded.
2. I like SIGG bottles somewhat better because I think the KK bottles have a slight metallic taste, and because the openings on SIGG are smaller which better accomodates drinking out of the bottle directly (I hate plastic nipple tops).
3. I read the tests published by SIGG on their website in regard to the old bottles. Doesn't seem to me to be any danger of BPA leeching whatsoever from the old liner. Can't quite say that about KK metal leaching.
In my opinion, the whole brouhaha seems much ado about nothing.

Uncle Ankle said...

How thick is the lining inside a SIGG bottle compared to the total thickness of a plastic bottle? A twentieth?

It would stand to reason that it subsequently leeches about a twentieth (or whatever fraction it is) of the BPA of a plastic bottle. And zero chromium/cadmium/whatever.

WMdeR said...

Dear Chris,

KK does a fine job at what they do. Why reinvent the wheel, unless you can outperform them in your niche?

I recommend a bit of scotchbrite pad over steel wool for de-logoing SS things.

If the 27oz rattles and you want to use a stainless steel bottle, then give it a couple of wraps with handlebar tape. It worked fine with the 16oz Nissan/Thermos vacuum bottle I've had since around 2002. I had to re-wrap it after thirty or forty trips through the dishwasher because the electrical tape holding the bar wrap down came loose. It has been fine ever since, no rattle, and it is oh-so-stealthy black.

Drifting afield:

A Specialized bottle is BPA free, but God knows what other plasticizing agents are leaching into the water.

Large concentrations of BPA are a concern for pregnant/lactating folks and pre-pubescent girls as far as I can tell from the studies.

To avoid BPA, keep away from anything (acidic) packed in cans: fruits, vegetables, canned drinks, etc--all are lined with plastics containing BPA to keep the food from eating the can. Good luck finding tomatoes canned in glass jars (the lids are coated with linings containing BPA).

Cheers,

Will
William M. deRosset
Fort Collins, CO

Nick Wong Lee said...

OK, good copy, you are delivering a message to both your supplier and your customers. Personally I definitely don't like that sort of tactic, but heck, who am I to complain.

If you want the very same bottles with a small shape change to make them characteristic, easy to go through an agent stating exactly what your requirements are. However, you'll be fronting the bread for stock, and if a bad batch arrives, you'll find it a mite difficult to get any money back.

Anonymous said...

What about the plastic caps on the
KK? A local store had similar looking bottles with caps that emitted scent and flavor.
I'd like to see a clear 1l PP bottle
(seem to see them in 600ml only)

Le Cagot said...

Patagonia slammed KK in their blog:
http://www.thecleanestline.com/2009/09/patagonia-terminates-relationship-with-sigg-water-bottles.html

bsk said...

Le Cagot -

The article you reference does not mention KK.

Did you mean to say Sigg not KK? Or perhaps did you mean to reference this article:
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/04/19/opinion/20090419bottle.html

The 27 oz KK bottles do not rattle in the futuristic version of the King Cages. I suspect they also don't rattle in the VO modern cage (which shares the same design).

Le Cagot said...

Oops, I meant Sigg, not KK. Sigg's president just issued an apology according to another blog.

Anonymous said...

I have an idea for a SS water bottle, probably more for professionals and office workers. My spin on it would be in the design of the bottle. You know how there are all kinds of mp3 players out there, but everyone loves, and pays a premium for, the Ipod. That would be my idea for the bottle. Any idea where I would find a manufacturer that I could approach? Post or email me at topbrandNOSPAM@gmail.com. Thanx.

Michael said...

You will know best what the volumes look like, and whether they justify ordering your own shipment.

Quality, as you have noted, is not hard to verify (but watch for seamed bottoms to bottles, which taste like a weld! I fell for that one.)

I work for a distributor in an unrelated industry, and we cringe at the amount of time our capital is tied up with overseas orders. It can be 5 months before you see a dime back, which is painful to the cash flow. Sometimes, letting somebody else deal with that is worth it...

Amy said...

That's why I always use stainless water bottles - so I don't even have to worry about what's in the plastic.