A household name, Tupperware is known the world over for its colorful plastic storage containers. But the iconic brand is warning that it’s about to run out of cash and needs significant new money to stay in business. The company’s stocks plummeted this week and investors are worried that the company could be on its last gasp.
Tupperware’s earliest products were a series of canisters that replaced women’s glass and metal jars and bowls, which were heavy, untight, prone to sweating in the refrigerator and often cracked or broken. Tupperware’s plastic was a revolutionary alternative, lightweight and airtight, with a slick waxy texture that made it easy to grip. The company’s products became the standard for postwar homemakers, and its sales soared.
But the success of Tupperware came with a price. Many of the first generation to use the product grew into financially independent women, but they were also essentially unemployed, as most jobs in postwar America required men to be at work. As a result, many women found themselves without any way to bring in income other than selling Tupperware.
Enter Brownie Wise, a divorced single mother from Florida. She took up the challenge to bring Tupperware sales to the masses in a big way. In the late 40s and early 50s, she started holding Tupperware parties in her own house. She’d invite a bunch of friends over, and a dealer would demonstrate the product in front of them. For example, she might fill a Wonder Bowl full of grape juice and toss it around the room to show how strong the hermetically sealed containers were.
These parties were a big hit and soon the Tupperware empire was built on them, with Wise at the helm. She tapped into the power of the group and the idea that purchasing products from friends was much more persuasive than a one-on-one pitch from a corporate salesperson. Her parties also tapped into the growing desire for convenient, modern food preparation and storage solutions that would reduce time in the kitchen.
Tupper hired her as the company’s vice president of marketing—an unprecedented position for a woman at that time—and Wise was in charge of a whole division focused on home parties. “It was the only way Tupperware could reach that vast market of stay-at-home mothers,” says historian Alison Clarke in her book, Tupperware: The Promise of Plastic in 1950s America.
The company’s fortunes ebbed and flowed over the years, but Tupperware’s popularity endured. The company shook up its business model in the 2020s, going from party-only to making a long-term deal to sell some of its products on store shelves. But the pandemic and a general slowdown in consumer spending put Tupperware on its heels again. In 2022, the company reported a loss and warned that it needed more funding to stay afloat. It has tried to revive its business with an e-commerce foray and a partnership with Target, but those moves haven’t helped. Klimaoase