Outdoor Retailer Summer Market ’10: Hydration category turns into ‘Bottle Battle’

This year at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, bottles were on every aisle. SNEWS counted 30 different brands -- making us realize the real story in hydration this year was what we started calling “The Battle of the Bottle.” See who's shaping up for the fight.
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Quenching your thirst for many years meant carrying a pack and sucking on a tube or sipping out of a (clear) screw-top, plastic bottle that you carried by a plastic loop on your finger.

OK, so hydration for many endeavors still means sucking on a tube enshrouded in a carrier of some sort carried on your back or waist -- but the types, designs and materials have changed dramatically with yet a few more game-changers hitting the market at this year’s Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2010. New shapes, new features on reservoirs, new types of packs, and all that other jazz.

Not to belittle the pack products (we’ll look at a few highlights in a forthcoming SNEWS® story), the real story in hydration this year was what we started calling “The Battle of the Bottle.”

“It’s insane. Everywhere you turn, there’s a bottle,” said Sandra Leo, senior product manager for new exhibitor Takeya, one of three showing first-time glass bottles at the show.

It seemed accepted for many years that a bottle was just a basic functional need. It was either plastic, clear and wide-mouth (to fit water filters), or it was a narrower-mouth squeeze bottle with a sport top. But things began to change in about 2004 with the launch of Klean Kanteen (www.kleankanteen.com) -- the company that one could argue truly pushed the steel bottle to new heights and popularity with its health message. And then, in 2006, when CamelBak (www.camelbak.com) – always a tried-and-true pack company – took its first bottles to retail. The BPA scare, kicked off in about 2003 (Click here to see a November 2003 SNEWS story, “Sierra magazine story causes stir over Lexan safety.”), certainly didn’t hurt the hydration segment as new and different types of materials became de rigueur.

This year at the summer show, bottles were on every aisle. SNEWS walked the floor and tried to keep tally of where it saw bottles. We counted 30 different brands – not counting distributor types that only carried somebody else’s bottle – and at least 12 of those were on their first or second show. But we’ll betcha dollars to donuts we missed a few -- and of course we can't cover them all in this piece either.

“Healthy competition keeps everybody winning,” said Travis Rosback, founder of HydroFlask (www.hydroflask.com). “Everybody gets better.”

But not everybody thinks all will survive. Said Paul Shustak, co-founder and COO, of Kor. “The market is growing, there’s no doubt about that. But people will go out of business and merge.”

The stories behind each now are going way beyond colors and BPA-free-ness. Think sizes, carbonation-holding, cooling, heat-protective, easy-clean, water-filtering, anti-bacterial, easy-sip, philanthropic-giving, and designs suitable for MOMA. Did we say easy-clean? Seems every bottle wants to help you get the crud out better. 

Some talked of carrying different kinds of liquids, such as HydroFlask’s Beer Growler, a 64-ounce vacuum-insulated, double-walled, party-waiting-to-happen at the trailhead (MSRP $50). Or Stanley’s Carbonated Drink Bottle, a 32-ounce, insulated container with a high-pressure design to hold the bubbles in your brew and keep it cold for up to three hours (MSRP $19.99, www.stanley-pmi.com).

CamelBak launched a storm of bottle products but one that seemed to catch some attention was the Groove, a double-walled, no-sweat, sipper bottle in clear Tritan with a filter built into the straw to help your water taste better, not taking out bacteria. (MSRP $25; stainless steel, $35; two-pack replacement filters, $10). Also out was the Katadyn MyBottle Purifier (www.katadynmybottle.com) with a built-in water filter from the water-filter experts at Katadyn (MSRP $49.95). It is said to be the only EPA-registered bottle purification system that removes bacteria, viruses and cysts, but also comes with a simple straw if your water is safe. Also launched was a simple drinking bottle, MyBottle Drinking, in pure colors.

Design was another huge push by many, no matter what material they choose for the product. Israel’sSource re-launched in the U.S. market, showing its joke-eliciting Spresh bottle made of a soft, squeezable material, with a built-in straw, and a screw-off bottom for filling. Its smooth, rounded, dome top hid the nozzle for protection – but was the butt of the giggles. (MSRP $20, www.sourceoutdoor.com). Kor bottles are, simply put, a fashion and lifestyle accessory, said co-founder Shustak, who said the company is “obsessive about design.” The company (www.korwater.com, photo - below right, original Kor One) listened to users who said the flip-top was too complicated and the bottle was too heavy, introducing Kor Delta (6.1 ounces vs. the original’s 12.2-ounce weight) with an MSRP of $19.95-$22.95. Only with one wooden prototype to show was the Kor Vida, a steel bottle with a drinkable spout ($21.95-$24.95). “We wanted to appeal to everybody,” Shustak said.

SourceSpreshBottle.gif

Newcomer G2V (www.G2Vproducts.com) was founded by designers and engineers with experience designing high-end cell phones and other “human interaction” products. The simple bottle was a great challenge, they said, to help raise it above commodity level. Its sleek look befits MOMA exhibits, but its function is thought through from top to bottom with smooth insides to keep cleaning easy, and the middle size of three a rather odd 22.8 ounces. Why? Because one of the founders, Jeff Higashi, likes his Starbuck’s Vente Iced Mocha Carmel Macchiato and that’s what size it is. Newly introduced was a screw-on tea infuser top (MSRP $5) with a lid for hot drinks coming soon.

Glass bottles created quite a stir. “Who wants glass on the trail?” asked one attendee. Well, no one – not even the glass bottle companies.

“There are way more people who go to work and drink water than go backpacking,” said Patrick Carland, senior vice president and general manager of the new Bamboo Bottle company (www.bamboobottleco.com). But those people often have an outdoor or fitness sensibility or a design sense that is not satisfied, he said, also taking the bottle to yoga classes or to the gym.

“Glass, it’s just the best thing to drink out of,” he said. “Your water tastes like water, your tea like tea.”

Bamboo Bottles (MSRP $25) are a thick glass, reminiscent of old milk jugs perhaps, with a bamboo wrap and two ends of food-grade plastic. A screw-top lid is sized we found to fit other wide-mouth sipper tops (now don’t tell).

Also in glass bottles were Takeya (www.takeyausa.com), whose company was at the show for the first time but has a long history in food containers and tea pots. (Bottles in two sizes with a silicon wrap, in two styles, MSRPs $19.99-$24.99, photo - left.) And first-timer Life Factory (www.lifefactory.com), with a tagline of “safe, simple, smart,” showed its wide-mouth 22-ounce bottle (MSRP $21.99, photo - below right) with a silicon sleeve and introduced a “coming soon” 16-ouncer (MSRP $19.99). 

Some beat the philanthropic drum, including newcomer Water Box (www.waterboxco.com) with stainless bottles and original, terribly fun art. It gives back 1 percent of sales to its partners that protect water and to its children’s art programs, and 10 percent of sales to the non-profit organization of choice of the artist who creates a limited-edition design. Among others, Kor also donates 1 percent of sales to water-related environmental causes, and Hydroflask began Five Percent Back (www.fivepercentback.org) where companies can sign up (his was the first, of course!), and if you buy from the company, it will donate 5 percent of the gross revenue from your purchase to a charity that you choose.

Then we’re full circle back to Klean Kanteen. Forget fancy designs. It introduced the Reflect, a simple, paint-free, plastic-free bottle that has a sustainably harvested bamboo top (MSRP $32.95). Also coming is a locking lid reminiscent of the old Grolsch beer bottles (MSRP $12.95). And then, of course, you have to show off the bottles: Nalgene (www.nalgene-outdoor.com) introduced a display for its MultiDrink bottles to help retailers keep them organized and show them off well.

--Therese Iknoian

The SNEWS® team of seasoned reporters covers a trade show to seek out product highlights, indications of a trend (to a product category, a company or the industry) or products that are new to the market. In our post-show reports, we do not write about every last piece of gear or equipment we have seen, although, promise, we have most likely seen nearly everything. Even if not in a show report, you never know how information may be included in a future report, trend watch, product review or story. If you have any comments or questions, please email us at snewsbox@snewsnet.com.

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