- Yes, Stanley’s insulated stainless steel cups contain lead.
- Does this pose a security risk? Experts say it’s not, but public opinion is a powerful force.
- The growing concern presents a golden marketing opportunity for unleaded competitors.
News of Stanley’s insulated stainless steel mugs containing lead has sparked concern on social media about potential health risks for consumers.
Stanley admitted in a statement that it uses an “industry standard pellet” that contains “some lead” to seal the vacuum insulation of its bottles. Then the seal is covered with a steel sheet that is not available to consumers under normal conditions.
In other words, the cup is safe to use.
Of course, that hasn’t stopped people on TikTok or other social media platforms from fanning the flames of uncertainty about Stanley’s exceptionally popular products.
Clips of at-home lead rod tests have garnered millions of views, with commenters expressing reluctance to continue using the cups even though they show no signs of contamination.
Meanwhile, public health experts who specialize in lead exposure and generally disagree with its use in consumer products say Stanleys are safe, especially compared to the myriad other ways people are exposed to the element.
Jack Karavanos, a professor of environmental health at New York University, told the Washington Post that he tested five Stanleys and even tried removing the protective cap underneath.
“I couldn’t find any lead anywhere that would pose a human health exposure risk,” he said.
Now, in this gap between perception and reality, lies a golden marketing opportunity for Stanley’s leadless competitors.
The Hydro Flask was quickly thrown away.
“There is a lot of talk surrounding lead right now. We want to assure you that Hydro Flask does not use lead in our vacuum sealing process,” HydroFlask said in a Threads post earlier this week.
The Oregon-based brand, which years ago was almost as popular as Stanley, touted the “more complex and more expensive” process it developed to achieve leadership in its products.
Owala, poised to take over from Stanley, has updated its FAQ page with a statement saying it has “used innovative, lead-free solder in our products from the start.”
Marketing experts told Business Insider that this is a smart strategic move for companies looking to differentiate themselves from Stanley and attract customers.
Anita Rao, a professor at Georgetown University who studies how false or misleading claims influence purchasing decisions, told BI that Hydro Flask and Owala’s statements ring true, even if most people don’t think they’re really relevant until now.
Lead is still bad for manufacturing workers and the environment—it’s not a serious health risk for Stanley customers.
Stanley loyalists may avoid those concerns, but Rao said unleaded brands could see an uptick among new customers whose options aren’t yet locked in.
According to Northeastern University professor Bruce Clark, an expert in marketing and branding strategies, customers most receptive to Hydro Flask and Owala’s message include parents of young children, risk-averse people and those who care about the environment.
“It’s really good marketing,” he said. “They took advantage of a sudden trend in the market that was profitable for them.”
“They’re not doing it unethically or deceptively,” he said. “They’re just saying, we don’t have that thing you heard about in that other mug, so if you don’t want that thing, you should buy our mug. I think that’s pretty smart marketing.”
Century-old Stanley, for its part, isn’t sitting still as younger brands bite into market share.
“Our engineering and supply chain teams are making progress on innovative, alternative materials for use in the sealing process,” a spokesperson told NBC last week.