Contigo Madison Water Bottle Review

28 Sep

A red Contigo Madison water bottle

Product Description:

Contigo is a popular brand of beverage containers owned by Ignite USA, a Chicago-based company. They offer many different products ranging from steel bottles to plastic kid’s cups to ceramic mugs, and all of them come with Contigo’s trademarked AUTOSEAL caps – cleverly designed tops that are leak-proof and simple to use. Pushing a button on the side of the AUTOSEAL cap opens a valve on the top, letting you take a drink without having to unscrew a cap or remove a lid. Releasing the button reseals the valve, returning the bottle to its leak-proof state.

The engineering behind the AUTOSEAL feature is complex for a water bottle. It uses several small parts arranged into a spring-loaded linkage mechanism, which makes the bottle easy to operate with one hand and leak-proof. This complexity in the cap, however, can lead to nooks and crannies for stuff to get stuck in, but the cap is top rack dishwasher safe (you may still have trouble keeping the top clean if you enjoy thicker beverages such as smoothies).

As mentioned above, there are a lots of different Contigo beverage containers, which all go by the name “Contigo” at retail even though Ignite USA names them differently on their website. For this review, we’ll be focusing on the Madison Water Bottle, which is the basic plastic single-walled Contigo water bottle that you’ll most likely find on a store shelf.

American Alternative Review:

The Contigo Madison is a reusable bottle with more features and better engineering than competitive water bottles. Surprisingly though, the Madison also sells at a similar price to those other water bottles (around 15$), despite the fact that the Contigo product costs more to engineer, design, and produce because of those features. To make up for those increased R&D and manufacturing costs without raising the sale price, Ignite USA obviously cuts costs elsewhere.

In a product such as the Madison, there are only a few significant cost contributing factors that a company can cut:

  1. Materials (the plastic resins)
  2. Labor (assembling the AUTOSEAL mechanism)
  3. Manufacturing (molding all of the plastic pieces)

Unfortunately for Ignite USA, material prices are comparatively inflexible. All modern plastic water bottles are made out of Eastman’s Tritan copolyester, which only comes from a single factory in Kentucky. The durable BPA-free resin is in such high demand that it is unlikely that any manufacturer, including Ignite USA, can purchase any under market value.

Because cutting material costs isn’t a reasonable option, Ignite USA relies on cuts to the other two factors by making all Contigo products in China, even though the company itself is headquartered in Chicago. In early 2011, minimum wage in Shenzhen (the manufacturing hub of China) was around 1320RMB/month. That comes to less than 10$ per day of work! Injection-molding machines are also more readily available and cheaper to operate (because of lower labor costs) than their Western counterparts.

These cost decreases are especially impactful because of the Madison’s design. The AUTOSEAL cap uses a lot of parts, and each part requires additional molding. The cap is also hand assembled, which requires additional labor. Even with multi-cavity tooling to decrease individual part costs and good part design to make efficient use of the assembly lines that put together the AUTOSEAL cap, the Madison requires a much higher baseline amount of labor and manufacturing than any competitive water bottle.

To make up for the increased R&D to design the AUTOSEAL and this increased labor and manufacturing baseline cost, Ignite USA has no choice but to make Contigo bottles in China. If Madison were made in the USA, it would probably cost $40 or more, and the product probably can’t survive in the market at that price point. Just as Camelbak decided with the Better Bottle and the Eddy, Ignite USA decided with the Madison to sell a Chinese-made water bottle with AUTOSEAL instead of an American-made water bottle with fewer features.

(2/5 stars)

You can purchase the bottles from Amazon:

Contigo Madison 24oz Water Bottle

You can also check out how American-made all the water bottles we reviewed are at our reusable water bottle category recap.  There you’ll find bottles like the entirely Made in the USA Nalgene Every Day Tritan Wide Mouth bottles and Liberty Bottle Works bottles.  You’ll also find other bottles offering one-hand operation (although the functionality is not as complete) in products like the Nalgene OTF.


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