It’s the brand that pioneered food storage when it burst onto the scene in the mid-1940s.
But after almost 77 years in business, Tupperware is now on the brink of collapse.
Last Friday, Tupperware disclosed it has ‘substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern’ in the face of a cash crunch and pressure from creditors, after errors in its financial statements left it unable to timely file an annual report.
Meanwhile, experts have now said that financial missteps, the demise of the direct-sales model in the age of e-commerce, and the rise of cheap alternatives – including re-useable containers from food deliveries – have all played a role in Tupperware’s downfall.
With the current bleak circumstances, it’s almost hard to believe that brand inspired a cultural phenomenon in the 20th century with its famous ‘Tupperware parties’.
Brownie Wise (pictured) was a divorced single mother when she discovered Tupperware products in the late 1940s. She took the brand worldwide by coming up with their ‘Tupperware parties’
What’s more, the brand famously also had a fan in the late Queen – who was said to use their products everyday,
Here FEMAIL takes a look back at company’s glory days – as consumers prepare to say goodbye to Tupperware.
Glamorous face of the brand
In 1946, Earl Tupper, from New Hampshire, created his first range of polyethylene kitchenware.
At the time, the US was still reeling from the Great Depression and the chemist wanted to create a product that could help with food waste.
The aspiring product developer was inspired by the airtight seal on paint cans and used this as the basis for the ‘Wonderbowl’ – which hit shelves the following year.
A 1947 House Beautiful review of the Wonderbowl labelled it ‘fine art for 39 cents’.
However, the vacuum-sealed plastic container was so innovative that shoppers were wary at first – and required demonstrations on how to use it.
Undated photo of Earl Tupper and Brownie Wise. The founder hired the single mother as his Vice President of Marketing in 1951
A group of unspecified women attend a Tupperware party, some wearing hats fashioned from Tupperware products in 1955
According to History.com, confused customers kept returning the air-tight lids to shops as they believed they didn’t fit.
In a bid to boost sales, Earl Tupper hired divorced secretary Brownie Wise to be his Vice President of Marketing in 1951.
A few years before, a travelling salesman tried to sell the single mother the products on her doorstep.
According to Bob Kealing’s 2016 biography Life Of the Party, Brownie was so unimpressed with his pitch that she decided to try selling Tupperware herself.
In order to make some extra money, the single mother started hosting ‘Tupperware Patio Parties’ at her home.
She later said: ‘I needed the money for me and my kid. So I got out there and made it.’
Brownie Wise, vice president and general manager of the Tupperware Home Parties, receives award from Boston Sales Executives Club in 1956
At the time, she had been working at Stanley Home Products and became one of the chain’s managers in Michigan – before the founder told her: ‘Management is no place for a woman.’
Although Tupperware had been well received by the press, it was still struggling to shift products in store.
As Brownie was outselling major department stores between 1949 and 1950, she was offered exclusive rights to sell Tupperware in Florida.
From 1951-1958, she headed up sales at Tupperware and she’s credited with spurring the company’s growth by becoming the glamorous face of the brand, which was targeting other housewives.
As well as being the first woman to ever appear on the cover of BusinessWeek, Brownie also gave demonstrations to editors at Vogue and Glamour.
Pictured: UK residents attend a Tupperware party in 1963. The brand had come to the UK just two years before
Tupperware adverts from the 1950s, urging housewives to throw their own parties to buy and sell the products
Women attend a Tupperware party, hosted to market the new brand of plastic containers, in 1955
Just like Avon Ladies in the UK, Tupperware began offering housewives the chance to become ‘consultants’ and sell the products to local families in the 1950s.
In her role as Vice President of Marketing, Brownie even wrote her own ‘manual’ for recruits – including the ‘urgent musts’ of any successful Tupperware party.
According to the New York Post, Brownie wrote that the atmosphere of the party should be ‘relaxing’ because the ‘social spirit of a party tends to lower sales resistance of those present’.
Wise went on to write that ‘it is a proven fact that you will sell more to a group of 15 women than you will sell to them individually’.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Tupperware Parties were the only way in which shoppers could purchase the food storage containers.
An 1950s magazine advert for the parties read: ‘There’s nothing quite like Tupperware for refrigerator, freezer, cupboard or table.
Advert for Tupperware from the 1950s shows a ‘consultant’ hosting a party in her home to educate others about the products
An advert urging housewives to host Tupperware parties which appeared in a US magazine in the 1960s
‘Only Tupperware has the patented Tupper Seal – keeps stored foods so fresh, so long… and yet it looks so attractive on your table, too!
‘Millions of women each year are introduced to Tuperware’s work-saving wonder-world by the popular home party plan.
‘Invite your friends over for a Tupperware party and receive a lovely gift just for being a hostess!’
At the time, hostesses would receive free products based on how much they had sold at their event.
Writing for the Emporia Gazette in 1960, columnist Irene Corbally Kuhn described a Tupperware party she attended in Queens, New York.
She said: ‘The evening started with games, and all the women taking a night off from husbands, housework and children, got right into the spirit of the occasion.
‘Only soft drinks and cookies were served — this is an unwritten law so that no one is tempted to overreach herself socially or financially.
Pictured: a 1965 advert for Tupperware. In the 1950s and 1960s, Tupperware Parties were the only way in which shoppers could purchase the food storage containers
‘Mrs Stegmaier showed the new things, discussed new ways of using them. The party lasted two hours, and when it was over, the women ordered what they needed. One of the guests announced she’d like to be a hostess next month.’
In her 1999 book Tupperware: The Promise Of Plastic In 1950s America, Dr Alison Clarke wrote: ‘There was a strong philosophy in Tupperware of women being totally supportive to women. It was like a big sisterhood.’
The popularity of Tupperware parties waned as the number of housewives fell dramatically and women entered the workforce in droves.
Suddenly, eating out was easier than home cooking and Tupperware was no longer needed to store leftovers in.
In 1961, the first Tupperware party was hosted in the UK. Four years later, the company had launched in Japan, Australia and Singapore.
Speaking to the BBC, Dr Alison Clarke discussed the international appeal of the range of food storage containers – which was being developed in different shapes, sizes and colours.
Shopper in Target’s San Bruno store in California browses the Tupperware aisle and inspects the new launches
A 1980 advert for Tupperware with the taglinge ‘where work and pleasure come together’. In this period, the popularity of Tupperware parties had waned
She explained: ‘The Tupperware parties glamourised dull housework, and you could only buy it if you knew someone who sold it, so it was exclusive, and social, and about relationships with other women.
‘I started off thinking it was an exploitative capitalist conspiracy against women, and then I met all of these women who had a fantastic life because of it and saw how it was empowering for them.’
In 1965, the influential fashion magazine, Queen, gave Tupperware its seal of approval, lauding it as ‘the greatest revolution in household consumer goods since the Phoenicians invented glass’.
In 2007, the brand was still going strong and even inspired a Broadway musical about Tupperware’s origins.
What’s more, the firm was said to have an army of saleswoman in post-Soviet Russia- with many of them said to be earning more than £50,000 a year.
In 2003, an undercover journalist reported that the Queen used Tupperware to store her cereals – prompting sales to surge by 80 per cent
After launching in the UK in the 1960s, Tupperware also gained a surprising fan in the late Queen.
In 2003, it was revealed by an undercover reporter that the monarch – who passed away at the age of 96 last September – was said to store all of her various breakfast cereals in the brand’s containers to keep them fresh.
What’s more, Her Majesty’s former chef Darren McGrady revealed these weren’t the only Tupperware products she owned.
Speaking to Marie Claire in 2016, the ex-employee – who worked for the Queen from 1982 to 1993 – explained: ‘People always say, “Oh, the Queen must eat off gold plates with gold knives and forks.”
‘Yes, sometimes…but at Balmoral she’d eat fruit from a plastic yellow tupperware container.’
As a result of the royal revelation, retail sales surged – increasing by a reported 80 per cent.
At risk of folding
Tupperware has seen its market dominance threatened by competition from other popular brands including Rubbermaid, Glad, Pyrex and Oxo
Professor Gary Mortimer, a business and retail expert at the Queensland University of Technology, has said the company has failed to innovate or appeal to younger customers
What happened to Earl Tupper and Brownie Wise?
In 1958, Earl Tupper abruptly sacked Brownie, declaring that she had betrayed the company ethos and endangered its reputation.
He said she had been observed using a Tupperware dish as a dog bowl in her luxury home. It went against his ethos of the product as a hygienic way to store food.
Later that year, he sold the company in 1958 to the Rexall Drug Company for $16 million and moved to Costa Rica to avoid tax. He died a broken man in 1983 after his later inventions — including a laundry device for travelling salesmen — failed to take off.
The same year, Tupperware became the world’s biggest direct seller with annual sales of £620 million.
Over the years, the direct sales model has generally suffered with the rise of e-commerce, and companies that rely on an army of individual neighborhood sellers have been forced to re-think their business model.
Last June, the brand began selling on Amazon and then launched a partnership with Target four months later to put their products back on shelves.
However, it appears the new sales channels may not be enough to save the business.
Speaking to Daily Mail Australia, Professor Gary Mortimer, a business and retail expert at the Queensland University of Technology, said the company has failed to innovate or appeal to younger customers.
‘Tupperware is over 75 years old as a brand. It grew in the 50s, 60s, and 70s through product innovation and creating innovative solutions for kitchenware,’ Professor Mortimer explained.
‘But today, there are significant ranges of competing products in the marketplace, and there is only so much innovation you can take in food storage.’
Others note that Tupperware faces stiff competition from alternatives such as Rubbermaid, Glad, Ziploc, and even the reusable containers from food carry-out and delivery orders from the likes of DoorDash and Grubhub.
‘I don’t know about you, but I just save my takeout containers and reuse those,’ said Yahoo Finance anchor Julie Hyman in a Monday broadcast.
Neil Saunders, retail analyst and managing director at GlobalData Retail, told CNN that a ‘sharp decline in the number of sellers, a consumer pullback on home products, and a brand that still does not fully connect with younger consumers’ were all issues facing Tupperware.
He said the firm is in a ‘precarious position’ because it’s struggling to grow sales and being ‘asset-light’ means it is hard for it to raise money.
‘The company used to be a hotbed of innovation with problem-solving kitchen gadgets, but it has really lost its edge,’ he added.
Tupperware’s dire straights came to light in a regulatory filing on Friday, in which it said it was working to find financing to stay in business, but that it wouldn’t have enough cash to fund operations if it failed to do so.
Tupperware CEO Miguel Fernandez said the company has ’embarked on a journey to turn around our operations’
The company is reviewing its workforce and real estate portfolio as cost-cutting options, it said.
CEO Miguel Fernandez said in a statement: ‘Tupperware has embarked on a journey to turn around our operations and today marks a critical step in addressing our capital and liquidity position.
‘The company is doing everything in its power to mitigate the impacts of recent events, and we are taking immediate action to seek additional financing and address our financial position.’
Tupperware is also battling to avoid being delisted, after the New York Stock Exchange issued it with a warning for not filing an annual report by the March 31 deadline.
The company’s shares last traded at $1.30 on Tuesday morning, down 48 percent from one week ago, and a 93 percent drop from one year ago.