My wife and daughter used to love SIGG water bottles. They loved the colors and patterns, they loved the reusability, and most of all they loved that they were free of bisphenol-A.
Or so they thought.
Last night over dinner with a large group of family and friends, my wife exclaimed, “I am never buying another SIGG. The CEO lied to us. And then he made me pay postage on top of everything!!!”
In a single act of non-transparency, SIGG turned a loyal customer into an evangelist against the company. How could this have happened?
The back story to all of this is that SIGG had been marketing itself as an alternative to water bottles – and in particular Nalgene bottles – that were found to leach bisphenol-A (BPA), an endocrine disruptor that has been linked to a range of human health and environmental problems. My wife – and hundreds of thousands of others – switched to SIGG bottles over the last few years to avoid BPA and disposable water bottles.
But. And this is a very big but. It turns out SIGG bottles actually did contain BPA in the liner of the bottle. The company surely knew that people were choosing their product because of the misperception that their bottles were BPA-free. In fact, they knew some retailers were actually marketing SIGG products as BPA-free. And they did nothing to clarify this misperception.
The CEO says he did not lie. What he said was SIGG bottles “were free from leaching” BPA, not that they were BPA-free. However, the CEO now admits that he is ”sorry that we did not make our communications on the original SIGG liner more clear from the very beginning.”
SIGG sold many, many bottles based on people wanting to avoid BPA. Essentially, SIGG profited from a lack of transparency and from intentionally NOT making things “more clear.” They asserted to reporters that they could not disclose the chemical makeup of their liners because they were a trade secret. What peopled really wanted to know was whether they contained BPA (not their secret formula). On this question, SIGG was intentionally unclear on whether their bottle liners contained BPA, leaving many consumers feeling deceived.
SIGG may soon pay the cost of their non-transparency. First, they are offering a voluntarily exchange of bottles with BPA liners. (To know whether your SIGG bottle has the BPA liner, check here.) But more importantly, SIGG asked the public to trust them and their bottles, and they have clearly lost that trust.
Patagonia, one of the most trusted brands in the world – ended their relationship with SIGG this past week because they felt they were deceived as well.
This controversy is by no means over with SIGG. The liners in most of our canned foods also contain BPA. To date, the canned food industry has chosen to be even less transparent than SIGG. Some firms have argued there is no alternative to BPA in liners, some say there is no risk, and some are simply trying to greenwash their customers. But they aren’t going to be able to hide behind non-transparency for long.
Interestingly, I was at the Grocery Manufacturers Association meetings a few weeks back and I met with one of the largest packaging companies in the US. When I asked about the BPA controversy, a woman from the company said it had been “No problem” to develop BPA-free children’s food containers. Firms are going to be releasing and marketing these cans very soon.
So firms in the canned food industry may want to watch and learn from the lessons from SIGG… or prepare to face the wrath of my wife.
The new SIGG bottle liner. Source: SIGG