Even those who have never bought a single plastic container from Tupperware are probably aware of the brand, which occupies an enviable place in the lexicon and pop culture. Edith Bunker fretted over hosting a Tupperware party in a 1974 episode of “All in the Family,” and goofball Kramer on “Seinfeld” once gave a homeless man leftovers to take home, only to get angry when the guy returned for his Tupperware.
Tupperware was once one of the most iconic brands in America, but it has struggled to keep up with a changing world. As a result, it may be nearing its end of life. This week the company, whose products can still be found all over the world, warned that it needed additional financing to stay in business.
It’s not exactly clear how Tupperware will find the money it needs, but the news is sure to rattle the company’s faithful. The company is still a global leader in food storage, with a wide assortment of colorful and sturdily made containers, but it also boasts an extensive line of kitchenware and household products that enhance lifestyles.
Earl Tupper’s eponymous line of plastic containers revolutionized food storage and preparation in the 1940s. But his invention was only as successful as the sales system that surrounded it. “It was a woman’s product and a women’s marketing and sales organization,” explains Alison Clarke, an expert in design history at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. The Tupperware parties glamourised dull housework, she says, and were about building relationships with other women.
The company’s success was tied to a specific moment in American life: 20 million women who had worked in factories during World War II were suddenly ushered back into the home to care for children and veteran husbands; divorce rates spiked, leaving many women without reliable incomes; and the baby boom drove families into suburban homes. All of this made women ideal customers and sellers for Tupperware.
By 1950, the Tupperware business was booming. During the first few years, it generated $25 million in revenue—more than $230 million in 2018’s dollars. Tupperware products, from the Wonder Bowl to Ice-Tup popsicle molds to the Party Susan divided serving tray, came to symbolize a postwar lifestyle that revolved around at-home entertaining and, yes, patio parties.
In the ’50s, Tupperware dealers and distributors were mostly women—though a few men were also involved. The dealers, who received a cut of each sale to friends and neighbors, acted as the brand’s infrastructure between Tupperware headquarters in Florida and consumers around the world.
These days, individual Tupperware “dealers”—those who sell the kitchenware to their friends and neighbors—are mainly female as well. They are not employees of the company, but private contractors who make a living by selling the containers on social media or in person at virtual and in-person Tupperware parties. (A few stragglers have tried to resurrect Tupperware parties on Facebook and TikTok, but with mixed results.) Klimaoase