Tupper Looks Set to End a Historic Run

Jennifer Leakos

After 77 years, Tupperware announced that it may go out of business. The brand’s name has been synonymous with the reusable food container, but it’s closing time for the Tupperware party, and we may not be able to take anymore of these containers home.

A history of food storage: Like most creative brands, Tupperware got its name from its founder – Earls Tupper. Born in 1907, Tupper was an inventor and had been working in a plastics factory for Dupont. He was the first to use polyethlylene in plastic storage containers in 1946, and thus Tupperware was born.

Tupperware: A feminist icon

It was women who drove the success of Tupperware in the 1950s and 1960s. Bonnie Wise was the first to innovate the marketing model. She demonstrated how Tupperware worked at parties she hosted and then began selling the products. These became known as “Tupperware parties”. 

If Instagram was around at the time, Bonnie Wise would have been Tupperware’s top influencer.

Tupperware party
Tupperware party, courtesy of CNN

Soon, many other women were selling Tupperware from their homes through parties. This gave women an opportunity to work and gain income, while maintaining flexible schedules that allowed them to meet the other demands that society had on them at the time. 

The downfall: By the 1970s, women began to move into the workforce and there were fewer selling Tupperware. The company failed to innovate: products were still only sold door-to-door or at Tupperware parties, and it was only last year that Tupperware began selling its products through retailers and in-store.

  • This explains why Millennials understand Tupperware the concept, but don’t actually own Tupperware the containers.  

One of the largest competitors to Tupperware is Newell Brands, which makes Rubbermaid and has a market share of $5.2 billion – that’s almost 50 times Tupperware’s $113 million.

Google search trends for “Tupperware” versus “Food storage container”
relative search on Google

Google search trends for “Tupperware” versus “Food storage container”
Data courtesy of Google Trends; chart idea from Chartr

Another major contributor to the decline of Tupperware is the rise in single-use plastics, which customers often get free with take-out from their favorite restaurants. These have reduced the need for consumers to buy their own reusable containers.  

Environmental impact: On the positive side,Tupperware became the first reusable container that had widespread adoption and allowed for increased reusable containers in the home. While there haven’t been studies on the impact of reusable containers on food waste, households are responsible for 5.14 million tonnes of food waste in Canada.

  • Imagine how many more meals would be wasted if we didn’t rummage in our “Tupperware drawers” to save leftovers.

There also were some negative impacts

In the past, many plastics were made with bisphenol A (BPA). After studies found that people faced exposure to BPA from plastic products with unknown impacts on human health, nearly all plastic containers and bottles have stopped adding BPA. 

  • Tupperware has been BPA-free since 2010.

Zoom out: As single-use plastics are gradually phased out, there is potential to increase the re-use of products. The future of a more sustainable home would be to apply reusable packaging to other areas instead of just food. 

Although Tupperware is nearing the end of its era, its name will live on as the ubiquitous food container. We’ll miss throwing out the uneaten spaghetti from the Tupperware that we swore we’d eat later but didn’t.