Sigg has BPA: Reputation in Peril

October 28, 2009

Sigg Switzerland sells variety of drinking bottles in both sport and children’s models. Most are aluminum with an epoxy liner. Many people buy drinking bottles as alternatives to bottled water for environmental and health concerns. Bottle water is wasteful because of the plastic and is no safer than tap water, in most places. Moreover, there is a concern that chemicals, especially BPA (bisphenol-A) can leach from the plastic into the water. Sigg sales had increases of 250% between 2006 and 2007 was concern over BPA increased. Chemical companies still dispute the dangers of BPA but that is another issue. As early as 2008, there were questions about BPA in the epoxy liners of Sigg bottles. In September of 2009, the company officially acknowledged older liners did contain BPA but denied the BPA could leach into water. This “seemed” to be reversal by Sigg from earlier denials about BPA. However, Sigg maintains the denials were about leaching and that the bottles were always safe. Many in the online community have vocally disagreed

Here is part of the explanation of the BPA issue offered by Sigg:

“1) What is Bisphenol A (BPA) and how is it generally used? Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical building block that is used primarily to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. Cured epoxy resins are inert materials and have been used as protective liners in metal containers for more than 40 years to maintain the quality of foods and beverages. They have achieved wide acceptance for use as protective coatings because of their combination of toughness, adhesion, formability and chemical resistance. BPA is still used today in the cans of your favorite Cola for example. 2) Did SIGG use BPA in its bottles? Yes. Prior to August 2008, SIGG utilized a water-based epoxy liner that contained a trace amount of BPA. These bottles were thoroughly and regularly tested in the U.S. and Switzerland and all tests revealed absolutely no migration or leaching of BPA or any other substance from the former protective liner. Click here to view tests. 3) Are you still using the water-based, epoxy resin liner in any of your bottles? No. We no longer use this liner at all. Today and since August 2008, we make all of our SIGG bottles with a powder-based, co-polyester liner that we call the EcoCare liner. BPA is not one of the ingredients in the formula of this liner. 4) Are older SIGG bottles that contain BPA safe? Yes. U.S. and worldwide regulatory bodies continue to deem the component safe and independent research has shown that these bottles do not leach. We stand behind the quality and safety of all our SIGG bottles including those with our former liner. 5) How do I know which liner is in my SIGG bottle? If you purchased your SIGG before August 2008, you very likely have the water-based, epoxy resin liner. Consumers can determine their liner type with a quick visual inspection. The EcoCare liner has a dull, pale yellow appearance while the former liner has a shiny copper bronze appearance. Click here for photos.”

The power of online communication is a part of this story. Customers reacted negatively to Sigg’s initial response. They sent e-mails to Sigg, wrote blogs, and sent Tweets on the issue. The customer reflect the perceptual nature of risk. The BPA may not leach from the epoxy but many customers bought Sigg bottles because they wanted to avoid any contact with BPA for themselves or their children using the products. If BPA is there, people can perceive it as a threat and as undesirable.

Eventually the CEO of Sigg issues this “apology”:

“Dear SIGG Customer, (STAMFORD CT) – Last month, I wrote a letter to try and provide you with as much factual and historical information as I could in regards to the evolution of the SIGG bottle liner. I also suggested that people could email me if they had any questions and comments. After reading and responding to hundreds of emails and viewing nearly as many blog & Twitter posts, I realize that my first letter may have missed the mark. What I should have said simply and loudly to all of our loyal SIGG fans is: I am sorry that we did not make our communications on the original SIGG liner more clear from the very beginning. I have learned much over the past 2 weeks. I learned that many of you purchased SIGG bottles – not just because they were free from leaching and safe – but because you believed that SIGGs contained no BPA. I learned that, although SIGG never marketed the former liner as “BPA Free” we should have done a better job of both clearly communicating about our liner as well as policing others who may have misunderstood the SIGG message. For over 100 years, SIGG has earned a reputation for quality products and service – and we do not take that for granted. From the day we made our announcement last month, we made a commitment consistent with SIGG values that we would offer anyone who is concerned about BPA an opportunity to swap their old SIGGs for new SIGGs with the new EcoCare liner. Today, I am announcing that this voluntary Exchange Program will be in place until October 31, 2009 to ensure that our customers have ample time to send their former liner bottles back to us should they choose to do so. Once again, I truly apologize for the lack of clarity in our previous communications. All of us at SIGG hope that we will have an opportunity to regain your confidence and trust. Sincerely, Steve Wasik CEO, SIGG Switzerland”

Sigg has now taken some remedial action to allay fears over BPA in its older products. Again, note how the response recognizes online communication:

“Subject: Our Response to the BPA Issue Date: October 1, 2009 Back in April 2008, the popular blog Tree Hugger ran a story, “Are SIGG Aluminum Bottles BPA Free?” The story ended with: “Conclusion: We are not sure if the lining of SIGG bottles is made with BPA or not, but we like the results of the testing, which is what really matters.” The testing of course showed that SIGG bottles did not leach any chemicals, which we too thought, “is what really matters.” Based on the mail we received this past month, some people disagreed. At the same time, we learned that some people in North America purchased SIGG bottles – not just because they were Swiss-made, beautifully designed and free from leaching – but because they thought SIGGs contained no BPA. We learned that we could have done a better job of more clearly communicating about our liners. We are very sorry for any confusion. To ensure that our North American customers remain completely satisfied with SIGG, we have offered those concerned with our old liner an opportunity to swap their old SIGGs for new SIGGs with the new EcoCare liner. This voluntary exchange program began in August and will run for nearly 3 months expiring on Oct 31, 2009. For more details please see:”

Decades ago, Kenneth Boulding speculated that reputations (he called them images) were fairly stable. He tough smashing a reputation was like smashing an atom—only a direct shot would cause turee harm while glancing shots would simply bounce away. So is the Sigg BPA revelation one of Boulding’s atom smashing reputation strikes? Only time will tell.

Questions to Consider

1. What did the Sigg CEO apologize for and how effective is the response? Be sure to justify your rating of the apology’s effectiveness.

2. Does it matter to the communication efforts if the fear over BPA in the epoxy is irrational? Why or why not?

3. How might insights from risk communication be useful in this situation?

4. What does the CEO’s apology say about Sigg’s online monitoring of its reputation?

5. Why is the composition of the customer base (their values and lifestyles) so critical in this case?

6. How did the online environment help to drive this case? How did Sigg use it in their response?

7. Start from the first blog questioning, what communication recommendations for the BPA in Sigg bottles would you  offer to the CEO?


Tough Time for “Chicken”

September 22, 2009

Case 1:  Chik’n.  Quorn Foods makes a product known as chik’n.  If you have not heard of Quorn Foods or chik’n you probably will soon.  Chik’n is fake chicken that is high in protein.  That protein comes from Fusarium venenatum, a fungus discovered in a field in Buckinghamshire, England back in the 1960s.  Now the problem is not chicken that is fungus though that sounds odd and a bit disgusting.  The problem is that over 1,000 people have reportedly had  allergic reactions to chik’n.  Here is a statement from Quom Foods:

“’Quorn has been in the U.S. market since 2002 and has been enjoyed by millions of Americans. We have developed our labeling with the Food and Drug Administration, and it is accurate and fair.’”,0,5753295.story?track=rss

A lawsuit has been filed against Quorn by The Center For Science in the Public Interest, a watchdog group for food.  Quorn maintains the lawsuit if frivolous. 

Here is how Quorn describes its product:

“All Quorn™ products contain mycoprotein. Mycoprotein (“myco” is Greek for “fungi”) is a nutritious member of the fungi family, as are mushrooms, truffles, and morels. The fungus used in all Quorn™ products is Fusarium Venenatum. There are lots of great things about mycoprotein which very few people know, so here are just a few:

– Mycoprotein is a fungus which contains high-quality protein, enabling us to offer an alternative, purely vegetarian source of protein to meat. It is high quality because it has all 9 essential amino acids.

– Mycoprotein is naturally low in fat.

– Mycoprotein also contains very few calories, so we can bring you foods which deliver on taste but which don’t max out on the calorie content.

– Mycoprotein also contains essential dietary fiber, which as we all know, helps to maintain a healthy digestive system.

– Mycoprotein contains zero cholesterol.

– Mycoprotein is completely meat-free and soy-free.”

Case 2:  KFC grilled chicken.  The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is sing KFC under a California law for failure to warn customers of a carcinogen (cancer causing agent) in its new grilled chicken.  You may remember Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine from an earlier case.  They are an anti-meat groups that has a few physicians in it.  The chemical is PhIP. 

Here is some information from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine” Physicians Co’s web site:

“PhIP and other HCAs do not exist naturally in chicken; they form when animal muscle is cooked to high temperatures. The National Toxicology Program administered by the National Institutes of Health has identified PhIP as carcinogenic, as have the state of California and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

But KFC is not the only restaurant serving carcinogen-containing grilled chicken. Last year, PCRM filed suit against McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, Chili’s, T.G.I. Friday’s, Outback Steakhouse, Burger King, and Applebee’s for knowingly exposing customers to PhIP without warning them of its risks. The suit was brought under California’s Proposition 65, which states that consumers must be warned about products that contain known carcinogens.

The lawsuit is based on tests that found PhIP in 100 grilled chicken samples from the seven restaurant chains. The findings, compiled from independent laboratory tests commissioned by PCRM scientists, were published in the September 2008 issue of Nutrition and Cancer.

Burger King was the first of the restaurants to settle the lawsuit. As part of its agreement with PCRM, Burger King has posted warning signs in its California restaurants to alert customers that its grilled chicken products contain PhIP.”

Questions to Consider

  1.  How might Quorn defend its chik’n?
  2. How might KFC respond to the reports of PhIP in its new chicken?
  3. What are the pros and cons of following Burger King’s lead of posting a warning?
  4. How are both cases examples of risk communication?
  5. Can neither risk be defend as accepted?  Why or why not?
  6. How ethical are the actions of The Center For Science in the Public Interest and Quorn?
  7. How ethical are the actions of PCRM and KFC?

Hot Dogs as Issues Management and Risk Communication

August 3, 2009

Many products do carry warning labels including cigarettes, alcohol, and prescription drugs.  The warnings include health risks (cigarettes and alcohol) and side effects (prescription drugs).  But what about a warning label on hot dogs and other processed meat read:  “Warning: Consuming hot dogs and other processed meats increases the risk of cancer.”  The non-profit organization Cancer Project is prosing such warning labels become law thereby initiating an issues management contest when they filed a lawsuit request the labels.  As noted in Chapter 10 on issues management, various groups are involved with an issue because they have something to win and/or something to lose.

The Cancer Project frames their position as public health.  They would consider their actions as social marketing (Chapter 8).  The warning Is sought because of the link between consuming processed meat and some forms of cancer.  As reported in the LA Times:  “‘Just as tobacco causes lung cancer, processed meats are linked to colon cancer,’ says Neal Barnard, president of the Cancer Project and an adjunct professor at the George Washington University medical school in Washington, D.C. ‘Companies that sell hot dogs are well aware of the danger, and their customers deserve the same information,’ he added, reports Times writer Jerry Hirsch,1,2946755.story.

Here is an excerpt from the Cancer Project News Release:

“WASHINGTON—Three New Jersey residents are suing Nathan’s Famous, Kraft Foods/Oscar Mayer, Sara Lee, Con Agra Foods, and Marathon Enterprises for failing to warn consumers that hot dogs increase the danger of colorectal cancer. The action comes in the wake of landmark scientific studies linking hot dogs and similar meats to colon cancer.

The class-action consumer fraud lawsuit, which is being filed July 22 in Superior Court in Essex County, seeks to compel all five companies to place cancer-risk warning labels on hot dog packages sold in New Jersey. The labels would read ‘Warning: Consuming hot dogs and other processed meats increases the risk of cancer.’”

The Cancer Project describes itself as follows:  The Cancer Project is a collaborative effort of physicians, researchers, and nutritionists who have joined together to educate the public about the benefits of a healthy diet for cancer prevention and survival. Based in Washington, D.C., The Cancer Project is an affiliate of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

As you might guess the producers of the products disagree with the Cancer Project.  Here is a sample response:  “These proposals are unfounded. Hot dogs have been enjoyed by consumers for more than 100 years,” said Sydney Lindner, a Kraft spokeswoman (from,1,2946755.story).  The hot dog and sausage industry generated sales of over $3.4 billion in the US in 2008.  So this is a serious issue to the producers. 

The American Meat Institute (AMI), one of the industry groups that represent processed meat, claims that the Cancer Project is pro-vegetarian, animal rights group with nothing more than a nuisance lawsuit.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest (food and drink front groups mentioned in an earlier post) go further by calling the Cancer Project an animal rights groups and the lawsuit as frivolous. (


Scientists feel the link between processed meat and cancer is very complex and warning labels may not be the best course of action.   In other words, there is no agreement on how to address the issue of processed meat being a potential health risk.  However, there is a risk that warrant communication.  Risk communication is the topic of Chapter 11.

Questions to Consider

  1.  Is the Cancer Project really working for the public interest/safety?  Why or why not?
  2. Why should it matter if constituents see the Cancer Project as engaged in social marketing as they attempt to manage the issue?
  3. What is the “real” evidence that connects processes meat to colon cancer?
  4. Are either side making exaggerated claims that could be viewed as unethical?  If yes, provide some examples.
  5. What are the costs to constituents and PR if the claims are exaggerated?
  6. Is the Cancer Project using risk communication is a responsible/ethical manner? 
  7. Does the industry response show respect for constituents and responsible/ethical risk communication?
  8. Who are the various actors in this issue and what is each one’s primary stake in this issues management effort?
  9. What is the role of transparency (Chapter 3) in this case?

The Withheld Distracted Driver Information

July 21, 2009

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had data from research as early as 2003 showing the dangers of distracted drivers. This included information on cell phone use while driving. A key finding was that even headsets did not help. The conversations are the distraction, not using your hands to operate the cell phone. The information was not distributed to protect funding. Distribution could have been viewed as lobbying. You need to read the stories to make sense of that one. “The research findings were obtained by the Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen through Freedom of Information requests, the Times said. The newspaper posted the documents on its Web site Monday night.”
This raises a number of issues for public relations.

Questions to Consider
1. Why was this risk information not communicated to constituents? Tax money funded the collection of the data so should not tax payers know the results?
2. What types of public relations problems does this create for the government?

3. How would you try to handle the situation now from a PR perspective?

4. What ethical issues and concerns do see in this case for communication?

5. Who benefited from this information being withheld?

6. Who was harmed from this information being withheld?

To see the document go to

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