Edit on 4/16/2021: There’s now a little addendum on yet other non-Ball lids, and other re-usable lids, available as alternatives to Ball disposable lids.
This is my third and probably last post on the 2021 canning lid shortage. I’m going to use it to talk about Tattler lids. I bought some back in 2011, and I’ve used them off and on since.
I want to make two simple points.
1: The increase in the price of Ball disposable lids makes the Tattler lids more attractive from a cost-benefit standpoint.
2: The Tattler lids are a little “fussier” because the seal is a separate rubber ring. But they aren’t hard to use.
A quick real-world comparison
But let me start with a little real-world test. Below are two sets of product ratings from Amazon. One is for Ball wide-mouth disposable lids. One is for Tattler wide-mouth re-usable lids. Each one represents the experience of hundreds of users. Which one is which?
If you can’t tell, then that makes the point. There are roughly equal levels of satisfaction among users who purchased disposable and re-usable lids via Amazon. (Tattler is on the left, with the higher rating.)
The economics of lids, part 1: What is wrong with this paragraph?
Right now, there’s a lid shortage. In prior posts (G21-003, G21-009), I’ve expressed the opinion that U.S.-made disposable lids will probably be widely available once the sole U.S. manufacturer of those lids starts making shipments for the 2021 canning season.
What’s wrong with the paragraph above?
To me, as an economist, it’s the word “sole”. It’s not that it’s technically incorrect. Near as I can tell, if there is another U.S. disposable lid manufacturer, they keep a very low profile.
It’s that, for all intents and purposes, there’s a monopoly on the domestic manufacture of canning lids. Ball, Kerr, Golden Harvest are all the same company (See Post #G21-009). Generic lids that claim to be U.S. made are reportedly made by that same company.
The upshot is that if you buy U.S. made disposable lids, your only choice is which name is printed on the box. And, generally speaking, that’s not a healthy situation.
One reason that I’ve bought and used Tattler lids is purely that they aren’t Newell Brands, that is, Ball/Kerr/Golden Harvest. They’re the other guys. And it’s always good to have a choice.
Economics of lids, part 2: It’s now $1 for a re-usable versus 70¢ for a disposable.
Source: Amazon (left), Tattler (right).
I’ve already said that I think the current disposable lid shortage will abate before the 2021 canning season gets underway. But that’s just my opinion. My guess, really.
Suppose you don’t believe that, and you are bound and determined to get some canning lids now. Assuming that Amazon is a pretty good reflection of how the market stands (and it usually is), you’re probably going to pay just under 70 cents per lid for genuine Ball wide-mouth lids.
And if you got to the Tattler website, you’ll pay just under $1 per lid for re-usable wide-mouth lids. Which means that if you can manage to use that lid just twice, it will have been more cost-effective that Ball disposable lids, at the current price.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen the economics be quite so favorable to re-usable lids. I bought mine back in 2011, and at that time, I can recall that the Tattlers seemed quite expensive, compared to disposable Ball lids.
But now? In effect, you’re gambling 30 cents a lid on the chance that you’ve got the good sense it takes to use Tattler lids. And then, if so — if they work well for you — that 30 cents pays a long future dividend of lower costs and peace of mind.
Doesn’t seem like such a large gamble now. And it’s not because the Tattler lids are cheaper now, than they were a decade ago. They aren’t. It’s because if you want to buy lids from your monopoly supplier of U.S. made disposable lids, right this minute, those are expensive.
Read the instructions.
I find that Tattler lids are a bit “fussier” to use, compared to disposable Ball lids. But not hugely so. That’s mainly because the seal is a separate rubber ring, and so you’ve got three items to handle when getting your jars ready the canner (band, lid, seal) instead of just two. (That’s a stack of twelve of those thin rubber rings, sitting on a stack of Tattler lids.
But it’s not rocket science. The main difference between these and disposable Ball lids is that you’re supposed to tighten the band after you take them out of the canner.
The second difference is that if you’re a heavy-handed canner, and over-tighten the bands, you can squash the seal out of shape. I am in fact, that guy. Whatever Ball means by “finger tight”, it doesn’t include my fingers. So I’ve had to resort to using the Ball lid tightener (a sort of torque wrench for canning lids) whenever I can. But if you’ve got the knack for “finger tight” with Ball lids, these shouldn’t be a problem.
There’s a third difference, but it doesn’t much matter. These don’t give you that satisfying “pop” the way the Ball lids do, as they seal and cool. But you test the seal the same way you do with a disposable lid. Try to take the lid off. If it’s good and stuck, the jar is sealed.
And so, for me at least, it’s just like the rest of canning or preserving food. Read the directions first. And if they put it in ALL CAPS, it’s probably pretty important. Like so:
Source: The side of the box of Tattler re-usable lids.
To every thing, there is a season.
Look at the date circled on the first image above. Tattler was born out of the first Great American Lid Shortage, which ran roughly 1973-1975.
Forty-five years later, we’re having another lid shortage. And Tattler is still in business, make the same product.
They haven’t become part of a conglomerate. They haven’t expanded into making decorative canning-related doo-dads. They make this one, simple, plain-vanilla canning product. And have made it for almost half a century. For that alone, you have to give them some credit.
Addendum: Two other options for U.S.-made canning lids.
The more I look into this shortage, the more I find canning lid options that I never even knew existed. So, in addition to Ball/Kerr/Golden Harvest disposable lids, foreign knock-offs of those lids, and Tattler lids, let me describe a few I found after I wrote this post.
First, Harvest Guard lids, which appear to be either a subsidiary of or a knockoff of Tattler, $0.76 per lid for wide-mouth lids. The listed address (Fruita, CO) is, I believe, where Tattler was located for a while. So this looks like it might be a schism within the Tattler ownership. In any case, it’s clearly the same design. So, you can buy lid designed for re-use for about the same price you’re going to pay, right now, for disposable Ball lids.
Second, there are one-piece lids for canning, U.S. made, $0.50 each for regular-mouth. Here’s an example from Amazon, North Mountain Hi-Heat Lids. Apparently these work well for water-bath canning (but not pressure canning). These seem to be very highly rated by people who have used them for canning. Per the comments, people re-use them. These appear to be available on Amazon in regular mouth only, not wide mouth. The seal is “plastisol”, not silicone, and presumably that’s what limits them to water-bath canning and not pressure canning.
There are other marketers of one-piece sealing mason-jar lids, presumably foreign-made versions of those lids. But a lot of those do not specify that they are usable for canning. I don’t think I’d even consider those.
I’ve come across a few others that seem plausible, but I can’t tell whether these are U.S. made lids or not. Denali lids, $0.50 each for wide-mouth jars is one of those. The writeup on the website is just plain weird, so I’m not quite sure where these people are coming from. In any case, they do not claim to be U.S.-made.
If I find more, I’ll add to this list.