The Place: Founded in Massachusetts in the mid-1940s but now absolutely global and trading in around 100 countries.
The Story: Tupperware is fascinating. It has gone from making revolutionary plastic-sealed containers to helping NASA grow plants in space and still people tend to call any old plastic tat they stick their sandwiches in ‘tupperware’.
It’s the old biro/hoover effect: But thankfully Tupperware is fighting back. Again. As it opens its first ever pop-up shop in New York to showcase its innovative achievements over 73 years and revamps its website to appeal to a new generation of eco-conscious consumers. But let us first turn the clock back.
To 1946? Absolutely. Mr Earl Tupper has just completed the first innovation – he has designed a sealable lid for food containers based on the vacuum principle. It’s the so-called ‘burp bowl’ but problem number one has already arisen – the stores won’t sell it because people don’t get how to use it. Cue the most influential businesswoman most people have never heard of. Brownie Wise.
Ummm. I think I might be most people: That’s her on the photograph above. Throwing a water-filled Tupperware bowl around to show that it doesn’t break or leak. It was Wise who first realised that the women who had worked in factories during the war were going to be shoved right back into the home again now that the men were back. And they were ripe to consume and a lot of them now had experienced what it was like to earn their own money. Plus you needed to show people how to use this weird Tupperware stuff. So she took all of that and ran with it.
Into bowl throwing? No. Brownie Wise invented the Tupperware party, silly. The social selling, peer-to-peer concept that we take for granted today was her idea. No need for formal qualifications or experience needed.
Clever lady: Very clever lady. Also invented the company away day /reward scheme type of jolly beloved of American corporations. Hers were called Jubilees and were wildly expensive themed affairs where the highest selling women would be given extravagant presents. No one had seen anything even remotely like it before.
That’s several innovations already. I guess it starts going wrong somewhere: Well, not so much wrong as slowing down. Everyone starts eating out all the time and they don’t want so much food storage any more. If food gets wasted so be it. And almost every single person in America had already been to a Tupperware party so that was a bit meh as well.
So it all got a bit naff: You know it really did. Women were properly working now in offices – they didn’t need to sell their female neighbours stacking boxes anymore to get a bit of money. And who needs all those fun nights in with your empowering and supportive female network around you?
But that actually sounds quite good: Oh really.
And the food waste stuff might be important: Oh really.
And while I think about it hardcore Tupperware could save a lot of single use plastic couldn’t it: By Jove. I do believe you’ve got it at last. But in the intervening years the innovation never stopped. Although the general public continued to associate it with very durable plastic storage boxes, in truth the range was expanding exponentially. And it is now absolutely vast and as a testament to its continuing innovations the company has 10,000 design patents.
Crikey: It’s come a long way from burp bowls, my friend. There’s a sushi maker. An apple keeper. Spaghetti storer. Breadsmart containers. And of course the legendary Crisp It to keep lettuces in good condition with a built in grid at the bottom to let condensation drain away.
Right: There is the MicroPro Grill, which promises to grill your meat and veg in under 20 minutes with no mess, no fuss – that’s amazing. Then there is a whole range designed to look like iron but is in fact food grade plastic. It’s oven/dishwasher/freezer safe.
You like this stuff don’t you…You can literally make a lasagne in the oven and put it into the freezer as it is till you want to put it in the oven again.
OK, I want you to breathe slowly in and out: There’s a pasta cooker, which doubles as a strainer. You just turn it over and it drains out so no more burnt wrists.
In and out: The Master Mincer – ideal for people who want to be sure of the quality and fat content of the meat in their Bolognese by mincing their own.
Enough. With all this new stuff what remains of the old? Oh plenty. The peer to peer selling remains the core part of the business. There are now around three million people acting as a sales force for the brand globally and they have updated the kits that get you started. For example there is now a Holiday Hustle kit ($70) designed for on-the-go demos.
Like it: In America, the oldest market, some of the biggest selling sales people are drag queens who throw riotous parties in subversive character and sell shedloads to women who are looking for a boozy laugh but won’t say no to a cordless PowerChef at the same time. Did I tell you about the PowerChef range?
Leave it: While over in the highest growth area, Asia Pacific, the vast emerging Asian middle classes are buying their first fridges and are at the ‘I am truly excited by bell tumblers’ stage.
But it is still plastic: Yes. But crucially it’s reusable. People endlessly reuse the items and then Tupperware will often pay a scrap credit when things reach the end of their useful lives (which if looked after could well be never).
The company is aiming for zero waste to landfill, is using renewable energy and less water to produce its goods and by 2025 all of its delivery packaging will be biodegradable. ‘No Time To Waste’ is the brand’s vision to reduce throwaway plastic and it really is ideally placed to deter people from using sandwich bags and disposable cutlery.
Let’s look to the future now: So the pop-up was only open until December but the company will have closely monitored its impact. Revenue in the third quarter of 2019 was $418 million but that was a slowdown in all geographical areas. On the plus side Tupperware’s long history of product design innovation is back cooking on gas again. It won two categories in the Fast Company 2019 Innovation by Design Awards. Design Company of the Year and Best Design North America for its work with NASA on a revolutionary plant growing system so astronauts can grow fresh vegetables.
Hang on, are you telling me there’s Tupperware in space? Yes I am. The final frontier.
PCMS is a global provider of IT software and services for the retail industry. PCMS offers a full-range of integrated commerce solutions across selling touch points and also provides turnkey managed services and cloud hosting. Its client list includes John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Whole Foods, as well as Walgreens in the US and fashion brands including Prada and Ferragamo across Europe.