The very mention of Tupperware conjures up images of round stackable storage bowls in harvest gold or avocado green and of lunch boxes in powder blue or deep orange. Today’s fast paced retail environment seems worlds apart from the heyday of the Tupperware party. When Tupperware came to Britain in 1960, a night’s entertainment didn’t get much more exciting than the Tupperware representative commonly known as the ‘Tupperware Lady’ setting out an array of storage tubs in every shape and size in a multitude of colours with a lunch box for every occasion. Snacks and nibbles were typically served out of Tupperware tubs and copious cups of tea were poured as friends, family and neighbours gathered in eager anticipation to watch the various demonstrations displaying the endless possibilities and uses for Tupperware. Most of us have a bit of Tupperware tucked away in the back of the kitchen cupboard, but few of us realise that the parties are still going strong.
Although Tupperware is common to most British households it was invented by an American called, Earl Tupper, who introduced the first sales in 1946. Tupperware was born out of Tupper’s experiments as a chemist to find out what the new and unpopular material, plastic could be used for. The enterprising Tupper arranged for his employer, DuPont, to sell him the by-product of their manufacture, polyethylene slag. It was through trial, error and ingenuity that this black, hard and smelly waste product was turned into a mouldable plastic that was flexible and durable. What made Tupperware so popular was his invention of a waterproof, airtight lid for his plastic containers that would keep food fresh and enable it to stack up in the fridge. Today Tupperware has found its way into our homes in the form of lemon juicers, lunch boxes, salad spinners and cereal dispensers; it’s hard to imagine preparing a picnic without the aid of Tupperware to keep the sandwiches fresh, my salad keeper initially purchased over thirty years ago is still going strong and I still use my 1970’s sugar sifter to give my Victoria Sponge that all-important dousing of icing sugar. As innovative as Tupperware is the invention wasn’t an instant hit, for initially nobody wanted it. It simply didn’t sell in retail shops because no one understood the benefits of it.
Tupper needed someone to explain his vision to the customers and his prayers were answered in the form of Brownie Wise who worked for a company called Party Plan. She saw the potential for Tupperware to be sold through parties and it wasn’t long before she was selling more than anyone else. Her success led the way and 1951; Tupperware was pulled from the retail shelves and sold exclusively at parties under the tutelage of Brownie Wise. The flamboyant Wise drove a pink Cadillac with a canary dyed to match and injected fun and flair into Tupperware, making the world of plastic fantastic and irresistible to housewives looking to revolutionise their food storage methods. Her bumper sales led to her being the first vice-president of marketing a great achievement for a woman in this era.
The first British party was in October 1960 at the home of Mila Pond in Weybridge and was mark the beginning of a craze that combined an excuse for a social gathering with a sales opportunity. The gatherings proved ever popular with Sixties’ housewives as a great way to showcase their hostess skills and latest hairstyle whilst swapping gossip and the product itself was an instant hit. Things went from strength to strength when in 1965, the leading fashion magazine, Queen, gave Tupperware its seal of approval, describing it as ‘the greatest revolution in household consumer goods since the Phoenicians invented glass’. Tupperware had well and truly arrived and was set to grace every self-respecting kitchen cupboard.
The famous Tupperware ‘burp’ of opening an airtight container is a well-remembered trait of the product. Following the example of Wise’s early demonstrations ‘Tupperware Ladies’ would demonstrate ‘burping’ Tupperware to get an airtight seal, flipping Tupperware upside down to prove it didn’t leak and dropping the robust plastic bowls on the floor all resulting in lively Tupperware presentations that captured housewives imagination across the globe. Like all good things the success came to an end, and the party’s popularity started to decline in Britain in the late 1970s as tastes changed, eventually reducing Tupperware parties to something of a dated joke.
In 2003 Tupperware received an unexpected resurgence in popularity after an undercover reporter who infiltrated Buckingham Palace confirmed that the Queen stores her breakfast cereals in Tupperware containers. This endorsement revived the British interest in Tupperware, after all if it is good enough for the Queen then it must be worthy of revival and so it is that the Tupperware Party is alive and kicking once more. The range has expanded since those early parties and now includes microwave, freezer ware, and products such as knives and scissors. The party format has also had a modern makeover and now hosts can book a breakfast party or a barbecue party.
Since its invention back in 1946 lots of rival companies have launched their own form of plastic food containers, but for me none of them have ever compared in terms of nostalgia and I still hold Tupperware dear for the sake of its durability and the memories of the parties that were full of chatting, tea and gossip.