People are freaking out over Stanley tumblers containing lead — Owala and Hydro Flask are cleverly seizing the moment

  • Yes, Stanley's insulated stainless steel cups contain lead.

  • Does it pose a safety risk? Experts say it doesn't, but public perception is a powerful force.

  • The increased concern presents a golden marketing opportunity for lead-free competitors to step up.

The news that Stanley's insulated stainless steel cups contain lead sparked a frenzy of concern on social media about the potential health risks for consumers.

Stanley acknowledged in a statement that it uses "an industry standard pellet" that contains "some lead" to seal the vacuum insulation of its tumblers. The seal is then covered with a layer of steel that makes it inaccessible to consumers under ordinary 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 swab tests have racked up millions of views, with commenters expressing reluctance to continue using the cups even as they show no trace 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 when compared to the myriad other ways people are exposed to the element.

New York University environmental health professor Jack Caravanos told the Washington Post he tested five Stanleys and even tried to pry off the protective cap on the bottom.

"I could not find lead anywhere where it could pose a human health exposure risk," he said.

Now, in this gap between perception and reality, a golden marketing opportunity has arisen for Stanley's lead-free competitors.

Hydro Flask quickly pounced.

"There's a lot of conversation happening right now around lead. We want to assure you that Hydro Flask does not use lead in our vacuum sealing process," HydroFlask said in a post on Threads earlier this week.

The Oregon-based brand, which years ago enjoyed almost Stanley-like levels of popularity, touted the "more complex – and more expensive" process it developed to get the lead out of its products.

Not to be outdone, Owala, which is poised to take the throne from Stanley, updated its FAQ page with a statement that said it "utilized an innovative, lead-free solder in our products from the very beginning."

Marketing experts told Business Insider this is a smart strategic move for companies seeking to differentiate themselves from Stanley and win over customers.

Anita Rao, a professor at Georgetown University who investigates how false or deceptive claims affect purchasing decisions, told BI the statements by Hydro Flask and Owala have the virtue of being true, even if most people didn't think they were really relevant until now.

And lead is still bad for manufacturing workers and the environment — it's just not a significant health risk for Stanley customers.

Stanley loyalists may shrug off these concerns, but Rao said the lead-free brands could see a lift among newer customers whose preferences aren't yet locked in.

The 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, according to Northeastern University professor Bruce Clark, an expert in marketing and branding strategies.

"That's really good marketing," he told BI. "They've taken advantage of a sudden trend in the market that is advantageous to them."

"They're not doing it in a way that's unethical or deceptive," he added. "They're simply saying we don't have this thing that you're hearing about in that other cup, so if you don't want that thing, you should be buying our cup. I think it's quite smart marketing."

Century-old Stanley, for its part, isn't sitting still while the younger brands nibble away at its marketshare.

"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.

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