Goodbye Tupperware? Your memories of the tubs that changed our lives

With Tupperware at risk of closure, we remember the parties, the packed lunches and those pesky lids…

Like Hoover or Biro, Tupperware is one of few brands so influential and ground-breaking that its name has come to represent an entire product category. And yet – excuse the pun – its fate may finally be sealed. As reported by The Guardian, the company has just announced that without crucial funding, it may go into administration.  

It’s a sad day for anyone who remembers Tupperware parties, or whose life was changed by this innovative plastic kitchenware. In an era of Amazon same-day deliveries and an almost infinite choice of sealable food containers and clever cooking gadgets, it’s hard to imagine a time when you had to carry your lunch in a brown paper bag, and wait several weeks for mail-order products to arrive.

Women at a 1970s Tupperware partyCredit: Alamy/Retro Ad Archives
Do you remember attending a Tupperware party?

But Tupperware was truly revolutionary. From its Dip ‘n’ Serve tray for presenting crisps or crudites with a tasty dip in the middle, to the Pie Taker dessert carrier, it changed the way we entertained. But more than that, the company’s ‘Party Plan’ model made shopping a social event and a way for women to get together like they never had before.

The brainchild of pioneering American salesperson Brownie Wise, the concept involved a Tupperware representative visiting people’s homes and selling to a captive audience over tea and cake, or something stronger. 

We asked four Tupperware fans for their memories of the brand, and where they think it all went wrong.

Remembering Tupperware parties

A social game-changer for women

Mention Tupperware, and the first thing that springs to mind is the famous Tupperware party. 

Sharon Husan, 64, is a nurse who came out of retirement following the Covid pandemic. She recalls her mum taking her to Tupperware parties in the 1960s, when she was around 10. “They were held by our neighbour,” says Sharon. “I don’t remember mum ever going to someone else’s house like that before the parties. They were an opportunity for women in the area with young children to sit, talk, socialise and maybe buy something.  

“Back then, a woman’s life revolved around feeding her husband and kids, her place was in the home, and not so many women were working. For those who signed on as a Tupperware sales rep, this was also an opportunity for them to make their own money.  

“I was fascinated. You didn’t see those types of products in the shops back then – it was like nothing mum had ever bought before. For our family, this type of food storage was a new thing, and the quality was better than you found in the shops, or what we’d bought before.  

“I remember seeing unusual things: little salt and pepper Tupperware sets, yellow pots with white pop-on lids.  

A brief history of Tupperware

Earl Tupper, a chemist by trade, invents the plastic for Tupperware. 

Tupperware is founded by Earl Tupper in Leominster, Massachusetts, US. His patented airtight lid makes a burping sound as it expels air from the container. Tupperware containers revolutionise how families store their food, cutting down on costly food waste. 

Brownie Wise, previously of Party Plan, becomes the first vice-president of Tupperware Home Parties business. Tupperware’s business model shifts from retail stores to a direct sales model. 

Tupper sells the company to Rexall Drug company (later to become Dart Industries before merging with Kraft Inc), for US$16 million – an impressive sum. 

The first British party is held by Mila Pond in Weybridge, Surrey. The brand goes from strength to strength. 

Designer Morison Cousins gives the design of Tupperware a new look, with bright colours and features suited to older customers. He alters the Wonderlier Bowl’s signature sealing top to include an enlarged opening tab and a contrasting-coloured lid.

Tupperware is now sold in more than 100 countries.

Tupperware closes operations in the UK and Ireland, citing customer dissatisfaction with its directsales model. It continues to sell online in many countries. 

A formal relaunch is announced in the UK for the middle of the year, but is later cancelled.

The company’s quarterly results are published in November, and its stock value drops more than 40%.

On April 11, Tupperware warns of: “substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern”, adding it is working to secure a new investment. The company’s stock price dropped by almost 50% on the same day, recovering slightly on April 12.

Our fitness channel editor Phillipa Cherryson has vivid memories of her mum returning from evenings out at Tupperware parties during the 1970s and early 1980s, laden with pieces of Tupperware. 

Phillipa Cherryson says: “Mum would spend ages explaining to us what some of the stranger-shaped ones were designed for. She’d try them once and then they’d end up crammed into the cupboard with all the other bits of Tupperware, never to be used again. 

Her mum Margaret Cherryson, 80, from Hampshire, adds: “Oh the Tupperware parties were a real social occasion! You knew it would be a fun evening because it was always a friend who invited you. 

“There were never any men at the parties, so it would be a group of women friends. We’d all have a drink, a bite to eat and we’d spend the evening chatting – and of course you’d end up buying more than you planned. 

“The clever thing about the parties was that you would look at what your friends were buying. If someone was buying something unusual they would explain what they were going to use it for, so of course you’d end up buying one as well.” 

Elaine Fox, 68, remembers her own mother hosting a Tupperware party. “A lot of the pieces were quite expensive, but it was all very new and the thing to be seen with. If you held a party you’d get to choose a free gift from the catalogue – and the more that was sold, the better the gift. Knowing my mum, she would have had her eye on something and that’s why she threw a party. 

“Mum also bought a cruet set that came on every family picnic. It was so modern for the time – everything sealed so that it didn’t spill, so it really was game changing. I remember the lemon squeezers, the salad bowls with sealable lids, the containers for flour and sugar… everything was so useful.” 

Women at a Tupperware partyCredit: Alamy/Retro Ad Archives
Tupperware parties like these gave women a unique chance to socialise and shop

Tupperware – the next generation

The parties continue into the 1990s

“I went to a few parties in the 1980s and 1990s,” Fox continues. “I remember being surprised at the bright colours – it had always been rather boring and pale before – and buying an orange water jug, which I still use today. You turn the jug lid one way to seal it up, then reverse it so you can pour from it. And it still never leaks. 

“By the 1990s, everybody who went would get a small gift that they picked out of a box of little gadgets. I remember choosing a small plastic scoop with holes in it for taking boiled eggs out of a hot pan. Again, I still have it and use it regularly.” 

“When I was a single mother in the 90s, I went back to Tupperware parties to get to know other school mums,” says Husan. “I was new to the area, so it was a way for me to meet people. It was a chance to sit, talk and socialise. Also, when my daughter made friends and brought them home, I’d know the mum, so it was nice that we already felt connected.” 

How people viewed Tupperware

A step up in quality

Tupperware was immediately famous for its sealable lids, which made a ‘burping’ sound as they closed. “The lids used to keep popping off in the early days, but they got better as time went on,” admits Fox.   

“I was always taken with Tupperware’s quality,” says Husan. “What you found in the shops just didn’t compare. I had a very big splurge and bought things like a Tupperware rice cooker, as you didn’t see those on the high street.  

“With Tupperware, I always had a fascination about finding something that I didn’t know existed before, but absolutely needed. Apart from the standard tomato stains (we didn’t own a dishwasher), the only disappointment I had once was buying a pot to store cheese, but I didn’t realise you had to sterilise the pot in the microwave beforehand, so all my cheese went mouldy – though it was more my fault than the brand’s.”

“Tupperware was very well made and a lot of the tubs were really useful,” agrees Margaret Cherryson. “When schools started allowing the girls to take in packed lunches in the late 1970s, they always took them in Tupperware – those boxes survived quite a battering. 

“I still had a lot of my Tupperware until I had a big clear-out a couple of years ago, but thinking about it, I might still have some around here somewhere!” 

Orange Tupperware jug on counterCredit: Elaine Fox
Elaine Fox still uses her 1980s Tupperware jug today – and it looks as good as new

What went wrong for Tupperware?

Caught out by the competition… and their own success

“Tupperware was always a bit more expensive than food storage in the shops, but it was also better quality. It was only when the quality of what you found in the shops went up, meeting Tupperware’s standards, but the shops’ prices went down, that things changed,” says Husan. 

“Also, in the 1990s, you couldn’t get hold of Tupperware without knowing a sales rep, then either hosting or going to a party. Life became too busy to go through this process. And even though the company now has a website, it never occurred to me to check online.”  

“I think so many other companies started to copy Tupperware and bring out something better, such as clip-lock lids,” adds Fox. “You were now able to pick up these things cheaply in supermarkets, and you didn’t have to wait two weeks for them to be delivered.” 

“Also, the party system went out of fashion. In the 1970s and 1980s, there were lingerie parties, perfume parties – it was a big thing, culturally. But as more women went out to work full time, they didn’t have the capacity for parties. You’d get home and have to deal with chores and children – there was less time to host.”  

However, perhaps the major cause of Tupperware’s woes is that it is a victim of its own success. With so many people still using the Tupperware they bought 30, 40 or even 50 years ago, there’s no need to replace it. 

Will Tupperware be missed?

Gone but not forgotten

Many have cited the price of Tupperware for its demise. While innovative in their ability to control air flow for freshness, the brand’s Fridgesmart containers have an eye-watering RRP of £92.96 for a set of four.   

“I’m sad Tupperware is going, but I’m partly to blame,” admits Husan. “We all know the name but now we can go elsewhere to buy quality products for less than half the price.” 

“It’s sad that Tupperware is no more, but I think we’ve all switched to more environmentally-friendly ways of storing food now,” adds Margaret Cherryson. 

“I think it’s a shame, but Tupperware has had its time and I don’t know how they could make it relevant again,” says Fox. “Everyone is trying to turn away from plastic now. I loved it, but I’m not sure I’ll miss it.”  

Amy Cutmore

Written by Amy Cutmore she/her

Updated:

Amy Cutmore has been writing about interiors for more than 20 years, harking back to the days when glossy red kitchens, toile de Jouy and rag rugs were all the rage, and everyone wanted a Changing Rooms makeover. You’ll have seen Amy’s work at Britain’s biggest homes titles, including Ideal Home, where she served as Consumer, Technology and Group Digital Editor. She has also edited or written for Homes & Gardens, Livingetc, 25 Beautiful Homes, Real Homes, Gardeningetc, Inside Readers’ Homes, Inspirations for Your Home, Country House & Home, Top Ten Reviews, Trusted Reviews and Country Life.

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