Grandpa’s canteen now costs $150

A new must-have for the stylish eco-warrior: a water bottle modelled on a U.S. Army classic


Grandpa’s canteen now costs $150For water bottlers, the windfall is quickly disappearing. Just yesterday, it seems, Voss’s cool, cylindrical bottles represented the height of sophistication, B.C.’s glaciers were being bled dry to meet the global demand for $60 water, and the 535 bottled brands sold in the U.S. included Canine Quencher, bottled water for dogs. But as we tut-tut about consumer excess and carbon calculus, tap has come roaring back. In 2008, for the first time in years, dominant players PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Nestlé—which posted double-digit growth every year from 2002 to 2007—reported limp sales in North America. One-time market leader Aquafina was down a stunning 14 per cent.

But when shoppers close a door, they always open a window. A brand-new Manhattan-based start-up, uscanteen, founded by New York-based entrepreneurs Victoria Meakin and Peter Bobley, is offering the eco-guilty a hip alternative to utilitarian bottles. Like Sigg, Switzerland’s century-old, retro-chic aluminum-bottle maker—whose sales have surged past the $100-million mark, up from roughly $1 million a few years ago—uscanteen turned to a past classic for inspiration: the U.S. Army’s one-quart, aluminum M1910 canteen, replaced in 1962 by the olive-green polyethylene plastic version used in Vietnam and thereafter. Their ads on the New York Times website and on MySpace (where they were aimed at a younger audience) feature hip, natural-looking models carrying contoured flasks in holders almost as if they’re toting Jackie Kennedy’s Gucci hobos.

When Meakin and Bobley decided to launch the company, growing green awareness, a softening economy and consumer fears about plastic bottles containing bisphenol A were already creating the perfect storm conditions for makers of stainless steel and aluminum reusable bottles. The pair’s unique version was born when Bobley showed up one day, 18 months ago, with his dad’s beat-up, army-issue canteen. “Do you think this could work as a water bottle?” he asked Meakin. Long-time business partners who share an interest in design and the environment, they were looking for a retail venture, having sold their $3-billion electronic-payment company. Only if made to look “chic enough,” they decided, and devoted the next 16 months to “redesigning, retooling, and making it sleeker.”

They halved the size of the 100-year-old design—a contemporary, plastic version sells at Army Surplus for $9.99 and corroded originals can be found on eBay for roughly $25—to a more portable 25 ounces. Made from medical-grade stainless steel, the voguish canteen, whose first shipment went out six weeks ago, has been polished to a mirror-like finish. With a pouch fitted for a BlackBerry or iPhone and a zippered pocket for cash and credit cards, its carrying case is being marketed to both men and women. (Because of their nostalgic appeal, they’re also aiming them at parents sending children off to summer camp.) The canteen itself costs US$30. Their top-selling canteen-and-carrier set, the Como, priced at US$90, features a bag covered in black, cream, khaki or orange canvas with leather piping, and adheres most closely to the original army canteen, which was lined in canvas and grey wool. It has a “gearish, retro look” that appeals to men, says Meakin, “but we sell lots and lots to women.” The Bouchet, a canteen ensconced in camel-coloured leather, will meanwhile run you US$123.

To establish the brand, Meakin and Bobley selected trusted, high-end U.S. department stores and their favourite boutiques as retail partners. But as the economic crisis deepened over the summer and fall, that plan “went out the window,” says Meakin. Shops who’d initially said “we love it, we love it, we love it,” came back and said they didn’t have the budget, or weren’t able to buy products without a track record—“if anything at all.”

So they went online—a decision that perhaps allowed uscanteen to appeal to “a much broader range of potential customers” than the swanky niche market found at a high-end boutique, says Meakin. And because their margins are stronger, it’s allowed them to drop their prices, she says—admitting that a lot of customers would have balked at the initial retail cost.

The canteens are eco-friendly without “clobbering you over the head with the green message,” says Meakin. The hip design, of course, is one way to lure consumers aboard the eco-wagon. And in the end they do eliminate the need for water sommeliers.

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Grandpa’s canteen now costs $150

  1. kewl ! leave it to marketers to make drinking water hip
    now the one comment i have is about dogs who drink expensive bottled water …don’t regular dogs also like to drink out of puddles

    • I thought bottled water for dogs came from puddles ;-)

  2. made where? china? out of metal contaminated with lead, perhaps?

    • It's rather glaring that they don't mention where the bottles are made–but have incorporated "us" into their name–which I think is very misleading.

    • Well, starting at $40 a bottle, I would hope that they're made in the USA — but I doubt it.

  3. Also wondering where in the world this stuff is made???

    • Made in Hong Kong. Better than out of the criminally run slave-shops in some of the far corners of mainland china, but disappointing that the shiny new "us canteen" you might have just bought happens to be essentially Made in China. I couldn't care less where the fancy purses come from- it would have been nice if "us canteen" supported the sagging U.S. steel market, rather than the govt subsidized chinese steel market.
      For about $20 you can buy an imported steel canteen, plus an insulated tote w/ shoulder strap from ecocanteen.com.
      Although admittedly i do like the double wall canteens from uscanteen.

  4. Who cares where this stuff is made? The allure of greatly reducing plastic water bottle waste throught the world should be the main impetus to support the growth of this product.

    • Anyone can go to REI and get a stainless steal water bottle made in the USA for $14 so the "allure of greatly reducing plastic water bottle waste" can be fulfilled easily and less expensively.

      • All I can find on REI's site are canteens that say "imported". Can you point me to the made in USA's?

    • I think if the companies name was "china canteen" or "hk canteen", there wouldn't be any discussion about the where's and why's regarding the production of the so-called "us canteen". It's misleading from a marketing standpoint. All of the hullaballoo about how it was modeled after someones grandfathers U.S. army canteen, blah, blah, the name "us canteen", and the lack of mentioning where it was made. Even a childs toy has "made in China" stamped on it. If "us canteen" was proud of their manufacturing practices, why not just include it on their website?

  5. Odd, I posted in reply to someone that these canteens made by "us canteen" are made in Hong Kong. That reply seems to have either disappeared or …. lets hope it was just a glitch in me posting.
    Anyway, again- made in Hong Kong. A bit deceptive. A bit disappointing. But… try as I might, I can't seem to find a currently "made in USA" steel canteen/water bottle. At best SIGG's Stainless double walled may be made in Switzerland- their aluminum ones are made in Switzerland. They're under the thermal bottles at mysigg. Still waiting on reply about the origin of the steel & labor. Price is equiv to "us canteen". I must admit- I do like the double walled "us canteens"- despite my dislike of their methods.

    • What would be the difference between steel and aluminum water bottles? From the point of view of quality of water–would aluminum somehow seep into the water?

      • So far the link between Alzheimers & aluminum is only casual, scientifically speaking…. BUT, a member of my family is involved with pharmaceutical research, and therefore meets with many of the worlds authorities on Alzheimers- both in research & clinical treatment. So far out of all of them that she has polled (maybe 15- and these are really the TOP people in the field), not one of them will use aluminum foil, cookware, flatware, cups, etc.. They'll all freely admit that the relationship is still casual- but there's so much casual evidence that no one will take a chance.
        Anyway, that's why SIGG's aluminum bottles are coated internally (faultily at first, and now who knows the quality).
        BTW- my post above about where SIGG's stainless bottles has been answered…. from China.

  6. thanks to ALL of you for answering every question I had …I'll keep using my glass bottle I keep in my purse……..

  7. I really don't think it matters where they are made. I just bought one for myself for work, and one for my girl friend as a Christmas present. It was designed in the US and most of the profits will be for Americans if that's what everyone is so concerned about. It looks like a quality product to me, and I will be proud to own one when it comes later this week.

  8. What a shame we can't sell anything made in usa.. I try very hard not to buy anything from china.. All you hear is recalls from china..
    We should go back to glass.. Usa is going under from this plus all the people not buy usa cars.. We are burying our selfs….

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