The return of Tupperware: Revival in home cooking and storing leftovers during pandemic sparks a £26m surge in profits as shares jump 35% in a day

  • US-based Tupperware posted negative sales growth in five of last six years and its UK office closed in 2003
  • It has been revived with a rise in profits as people took on more home cooking amid the coronavirus pandemic
  • Profits are up by £26 million and shares by more than 35 per cent on Wednesday alone amid the resurgence 
  • Tupperware’s popularity inspired other companies, including Avon and Ann Summers, to follow its sales plan 

For decades Tupperware parties were a regular fixture in the social calendars of housewives across Britain and the US – until the company saw a huge decline in interest in the 21st century. 

The US company posted negative sales growth in five of the last six years and its UK office was shutdown in 2003.

But today, Tupperware has been revived by the coronavirus pandemic. Profits are up by £26 million and shares jumped by more than 35 percent on Wednesday alone. 

Throughout the last half of the 20th Century Tupperware’s popularity inspired other companies – including Avon and Ann Summers – to follow its ‘party’ sales plan.

Women could enjoy a glass of wine and a chat with friends and neighbours as a saleswoman showed off their latest wares.

Those who signed up to be a hostess, and allowed the companies use of their house and social group, were rewarded with free products – a win-win arrangement.

But 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.   

An advertisement for Tupperware Parties in the 1960s asks: ‘What could be easier than gift shopping in your own home?’

Today, Tupperware has been revived by the coronavirus pandemic. Profits are up by £26 million and shares jumped by more than 35 percent on Wednesday alone. Pictured, women at a Tupperware party around 1955

Tupperware products at a Tupperware party in Bellflower, California, in August 2011 (file)

Chemist Earl Tupper, an American, was the first man to turn plastic from a brittle and smally block to the mouldable, durable product we know today.

After asking his employer, DuPort, to send him its remnants in the form of plyethylene slag he managed to find a way to make the material more flexible in 1939.

Earl Tupper and Brownie Wise

Moulding it into the shape of a bowl, he then created an airtight lid.

But the new product flopped in stores in 1946, with the Business Weekly magazine noting at the time: ‘In retail stores, Tupperware fell flat on its face.’ 

It was only when Mr Tupper met Brownie Wise, who worked for a company called Party Plan, that his product was given a jolt of life.

She set up the first Tupperware party – something that had so much success the product was taken off shelves all together in 1951.

Since lockdown, restaurant pain has turned into Tupperware’s gain with millions of people in a pandemic opening cookbooks again.

And Tupperware is suddenly an ‘it brand’ five decades after what seemed to be its glory days. 

The company had appeared to be on life support, posting negative sales growth in five of the last six years, a trend that seemed to be accelerating this year.

Long gone was the heyday of the Tupperware Party, first held in 1948, which provided women with a chance to run their own business. That system worked so well, Tupperware took its products out of stores three years later. But it has struggled as more families gave up making dinner from scratch and also dining out more.

Then the pandemic struck.

Profit during the most recent quarter quadrupled to $34.4 million, Tupperware reported Wednesday.

The explosion of sales caught almost everyone off guard and shares of Tupperware Brands Corp., which had been rising since April, jumped 35% to a new high for the year. Shares that could be had for around $1 in March, closed at $28.80 on Wednesday.

Tupperware stands apart from most other companies that have thrived in the pandemic. Unlike Netflix, Amazon.com, Peloton or even DraftKings, it doesn’t rely on a hi-tech platform.

However, it’s certainly not alone as the pandemic bends how we spend our time more rapidly perhaps than any point in our lifetimes.

On Monday the toymaker Hasbro said that its games division, which includes board games like Monopoly, saw a 21 per cent jump in revenue.

On Wednesday, Tupperware reported quarterly adjusted earnings of $1.20 per share, triple what Wall Street had expected. Revenue of $477.2 million was about 30 per cent higher than forecasts and 14% better than last year.

CEO Miguel Fernandez said the company, based in Orlando, Florida, had shifted more heavily to digital sales to accommodate those sheltering in the pandemic. He also noted ‘increased consumer demand.’

The company earlier this year had begun a turnaround campaign. Fernandez, who once led Avon, was named CEO in March just as COVID-19 infections began to spread in the U.S.

CEO Miguel Fernandez said the company, based in Orlando, Florida, had shifted more heavily to digital sales to accommodate those sheltering in the pandemic. He also noted ‘increased consumer demand’ (file image)

An employee stocks shelves where Tupperware is displayed at a Target store June 19, 2003

The logo for Tupperware Brands appears above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange

The host of the Tupperware Party was rewarded for her efforts with free products. An advert from the time reads: ‘The value of the gift increases with the volume of sales’

What were Tupperware parties and why were they so effective?  

The first Tupperware party, known as a Poly-T party, was held by saleswoman Brownie Wise in the late 1940s. 

The divorcee, former advice columnist, secretary and mother-of-one helped the inventer of Tupperware, chemist Earl Tupper, take his failing business and transform it into one that is now synonymous with its product.

Before Tupper turned plastic into flexible and colourful bowls, boxes and other recepticles, it was a difficult material to work with. Its main use was as insulation, to make gas masks or various products used by the army during the Second World War.

It was too new, too modern, for Americans – and housewives refused to have it in their kitchens.

Tupperware saleswoman Astrid Preston (second from right) explains the Tupperware gear to party goers on  August 15, 1989

Brownie Wise (pictured) was so successful in selling Tupperware from the homes of American women she soon became a celebrity

Wise, who had a volatile relationship with Tupper until their split in 1958, decided to take the product into people’s homes in the form of parties.

They allowed new neighbours to meet each other in an easy-going setting in a mobile post-war America. 

And women could stay within the domestic sphere – something society encouraged at that time – and enjoy the independence that came with earning money at the same time.

Wise was so successful in selling Tupperware from the homes of American women she soon became a celebrity. 

One photograph from the period shows Wise throwing a plastic bowl full of water to a guest to demonstrate it was airtight as others look on in shock and awe.

A 1950s advertisement for Tupperware Parties asks women if they want to ‘have a good time with friends while looking over what’s newest and best in products to lighten housework’

Another adverts claims the plastic containers will be ‘the nicest thing that could happen to your kitchen’

An advertisement for the company in the 1960s. Tupperware is made from polyethylene. Its history began in March 1933, when a a white waxy solid was found on the walls of an experimental high pressure bomb

Around 1950. A woman holds three Tupperware containers while standing in front of a group of women seated in a living room during a Tupperware party

Using an approach first thought up by The Larkin Company in the 1890s, she took Tupperware into people’s houses, and rewarded the host with free products in turn for use of her living room and social circles.

An advert from the time reads: ‘The value of the gift increases with the volume of sales.’ 

By 1951 the new way of selling was so effective Tupperware had been removed from the shelves of shops.

Mila Pond hosted the first British Tupperware Party in Weybridge in 1960, marking the jump from its humble beginnings in Florida, US, to global success.

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