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keepin' it fresh
by Stephanie Margolin
October 1, 2001

Reminiscent of mom and apple pie, Tupperware has somehow managed to survive bra burning, women’s lib and the invention of the microwave to embrace worldwide distribution, the Internet and Phranc, the lesbian folksinger.

Both the terms Tupperware and Tupperware Party have become generic, practically divorced from the brand itself.


In the UK, an article about carrying homemade lunches to work, for example, uses the word Tupperware to describe all food storage containers – much as cornflakes means any dry cereal to non-Americans. In another case, a publisher describes XML, the computer language, as “digital Tupperware…the container of choice.” This easily denotes to a potential reader that, like Tupperware, it is universal and flexible.

The Tupperware Party, too, is a generic term. Canadians report a new trend called “Tupperware parties for the filthy rich,” where passengers who have enjoyed a luxury cruise are paid (!) by the cruise company to invite friends to a show-and-tell dinner, promoting the cruise line. Even Charlott, a French lingerie company, sells its lacy ware in the “same manner as the Tupperware parties.”

For most, Tupperware represents wholesome, 1950s middle-class suburban America. The company made its name with products like the Party Bowl and the Pie Taker, which quickly became as much a part of American iconography as Mom, baseball and apple pie. In fact, Tupperware helped Mom bring the apple pie to the baseball game.

But Tupperware didn’t use the traditional retail channels to distribute its product. Mom couldn’t just go down to Woolworth’s and purchase a couple containers. Instead she had to buy it at a Tupperware Party – an event where housewives in their pretty afternoon dresses gathered for lunch or tea in a neighbor’s living room and oohed and aahed over the merchandise. Tupperware parties were friendly and genteel. The sales consultant was your friend or neighbor, and her job seemed like fun; hardly work at all. Selling Tupperware certainly didn’t stigmatize the seller in the way that another job, even a more traditional sales job, might have.

Although these images of Tupperware remain fixed in our memories, Tupperware itself has grown and changed in the interceding half century. Recent images of the Tupperware brand, circa 2001, might surprise you.

For instance, let’s take a contemporary Tupperware Lady. Self-described Jewish, lesbian folksinger Phranc is not exactly stereotypical of the role from years past. Her close-cropped hair, man-tailored clothes and neckties probably better represent the teenage son of your average Tupperware guest. But Phranc is out there making Tupperware accessible – which quite possibly represents a new audience for Tupperware. A recently produced documentary, Lifetime Guarantee: Phranc’s Adventures in Plastic, chronicles her Tupperware experience and also features her single, “Tupperware Lady.”

But don’t be mislead, Phranc is a serious Tupperware sales consultant. She is one of thousands of independent Tupperware sales consultants who take advantage of the web to promote the brand worldwide.

Yes, Tupperware is worldwide. In fact, despite strong brand associations with the US, only 20% of Tupperware sales are American. Tupperware India is a typical example of how the brand sells in the other 80% of its market.

This year, Tupperware India expanded with 10 new products, bringing a total of 85 products to its complete line. Many of these are specifically tailored to the local market, like the “Spice-it-up,” a container for storing pickles and jam, and it is this “Indianization” that the company’s Managing Director, Kanwar S. Bhutani, claims is one of its keys to success.

It must be working. Since Tupperware entered the Indian market in 1996, Bhutani reports 30 to 40% growth annually.

As for the traditional distribution methods, Tupperware marries these with other available channels including virtual Tupperware Parties via television and actual retail sales in stores.

In India, Tupperware launched kiosks in two major chains: Shoppers’ Stop and Ebony. Presence in the kiosks will promote brand awareness and help to generate sales leads, thus supporting the party plan. Additionally, Tupperware India runs co-promotions with companies like Whirlpool and Proctor & Gamble, to generate awareness and leads. And a recent “caravan” program helped to recruit new people to the sales force.

In the US, Tupperware is now available in SuperTargets (the grocery division of the Target chain) as of this month (October 2001). Don’t be fooled, though, the traditional demonstration method will still be in evidence. Operating similarly to the kiosks in India, 40-50 products will be available in specially branded Tupperware areas of the store. These areas will be staffed by local independent Tupperware sales consultants, who will offer their standard demonstrations, recipes and Tupperware advice.

With its long-lasting lifespan and endless chain of sales networking, Tupperware looks set to outlast the next century too.


Stephanie Margolin is a freelance writer based in New York City.

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