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Beyond the "Tupperware Party":
Reaching New Generations of Customers

Tupperware Corporation
14901 S. Orange Blossom Trail
Orlando, FL
www.tupperware.com

Recreating the Classics

It was 1990, and Morison Cousins, Vice President of Design for Tupperware Worldwide, faced a formidable challenge. Tupperware had decided that it needed to update its products to reach a new generation of homemakers. This would mean changing a design that had remained essentially unchanged since the 1950's while increasing in sales for 3 decades. Cousins remembered the 1950's fondly, and Tupperware had been among the more popular and exciting home products during these years. Born in Brooklyn in 1934, Cousins had studied industrial design at Pratt Institute and had later opened his own design office, also in New York, before joining Tupperware in 1990. 

Growing up with the Baby Boomers 

Unlike so many consumer products, Tupperware containers remained useful for decades after purchase. The same container that kept the baby's food fresh was still used years later to save dinner leftovers for that same child when she came home late from high school cheerleading practice. In the ensuing years, young homemakers who purchased their first Tupperware in the 1940's reached middle age, while their children and their elderly parents used their Tupperware products as well. Though life changed considerably for baby boomers and their families through the next 3 decades, Tupperware design remained essentially the same.  

Sealing Out Some Users 

For many children, elders, and people with disabilities, the same airtight seal that had been Tupperware's trademark was also a barrier, because the narrow lip was difficult to open. At the same time, many who had been young homemakers in 1945 and among Tupperware's most faithful customers, had begun to experience arthritis and other natural effects of aging that made use of that classic seal difficult for them as well. One of those users was the mother of Morison Cousins, Vice President of Design for Tupperware Worldwide. Like many of her contemporaries, she had found that the narrow lip around the edge of the seal had become difficult to use. 

Usability Meets Durability 

In 1990, Cousins undertook the redesign of Tupperware products. In developing the new One Touch Seal and the redesign of the classic Wonderlier bowls, Cousins had in mind users like his 87-year-old mother. He replaced the narrow lip seals with larger seal tabs and double-arc handles that were easier to grasp.
Wondelier Bowls
Wonderlier Bowls  

Strong color contrast between the lids and bowls increased usability for people with limited vision. The very features appreciated by museum curators also had a straightforward usability, even for people limited by age or disability. In 1994, Tupperware added about 100 new products to the line, which included Wonderlier and Sevalier bowls, One Touch containers, Tuppertoys, and Tupperware microwave cookware. Cousins' adherence to simple, elegant forms helped to preserve the utilitarian character that had endeared Tupperware products to homemakers.  Cousins' approach also earned Tupperware products a place in design museums around the world. With Cousins' redesign of the classic Tupper seal, Tupperware products became not only capable of enduring through the user's lifespan, but remaining useful throughout that lifespan as well. 

Background 

In 2000, Tupperware, headquartered in Orlando, Florida, remained one of the world's leading manufacturers and sellers of plastic food serving, storage, and preparation products. Tupperware was one of the most well recognized brand names in the world, its products found in over 90% of American households and widely recognized for designing top-quality, innovative products.  Tupperware's core product line included food storage containers to preserve food freshness through the well-known Tupperware seals. The company also had an established line of children's educational toys, serving products and gifts.  New product development continued to be an important part of the company's growth strategy, as it strove to generate about 20% of annual sales from new products. The line of products expanded over the years into kitchen, home storage and organizing uses. This included products such as Modular Mates, Fridge Stackables, OneTouch canisters, the Rock N'Serve line, Meals in Minutes line, Legacy Serving line, and the TupperMagic line, as well as the Expressions line, the Luxuria line, Ultra Plus and OvenWorks, Salad Spinner, E-Series ergonomic knives, Multi Organizer water filters, mixers, blenders, flower vases, ComfortClean Squeegees, and BagKeepers. The development of Tupperware's new products differed in various markets, due to dissimilarities in cultures, life-styles and needs. Tupperware positioned its products at the upper end of the market by incorporating innovative designs and higher quality plastics in its products. In general, the company avoided product categories where it felt it could not differentiate itself and command a premium price. 

Company History 

Tupperware has literally been a household word for generations. But long before Tupperware became an integral part of the classic suburban lifestyle in the 1950's, Earl Tupper was a self-educated engineer working for a Du Pont chemical plant. With the beginning of WWII, industrial materials for home products became scarce, and Tupper began to experiment with a refining process to make use of Du Pont's leftover polyethylene plastic.  When refined, this plastic became the basis for Tupper's revolutionary kitchen product. Tupper's very first product was a simple tumbler. But looking at a paint can in a hardware store one day, he conceived of inverting the lid seal and producing it in flexible plastic. So the famous "burp" seal was born. In 1958, Tupper sold the company to Rexall Drug, which became Dart Industries in 1969. Dart Industries spun off Tupperware in 1986, along with several other divisions, Hobart (commercial kitchen appliances), Ralph Wilson Plastics (plastic laminates for countertops), and West Bend (small appliances), to form Premark International, Inc. Tupperware became a separately traded, publicly owned company in May 1996 through a tax-free spin-off and share distribution from Premark. In 1999, company sales totaled over $1.0 billion through a sales force of about 1 million spread throughout more than 100 countries worldwide. Tupperware's global reach was reflected in the numbers -- nearly 86% of revenues were generated outside the U.S. Focusing more on updating product designs, management invested in a major public relations campaign in the U.S., which resulted in about 300 impressions per month (in magazines, television shows, etc.) in 1999. Strategic alliances with Whirlpool, Proctor & Gamble, and the International Chef's Forum enabled Tupperware to promote the brand and spark interest in products.

An Innovative Marketing Idea in the 1950's 

Until Earl Tupper introduced his Tupper Plastic products in 1945, kitchen containers were either glass jars or ceramic crocks. Many homemakers were familiar with the use of Mason jars for preserving fruits and vegetables. Tupper's airtight seal made polyethylene Tupper containers functionally superior to conventional containers. But plastics had been seen very little outside of industrial applications. As a result, few homeowners knew the advantages of the material or even how to open the Tupper containers, and they sold poorly.  Watching his products languish on the shelves of hardware stores, Tupper realized that the product had to be brought directly into the homes of users in order to convince the public. Tupper's first direct sales person was Brownie Wise, who conceived the idea for the "Tupperware party" to do just that. Tupperware parties brought awareness of these new plastic products into suburban neighborhoods. For decades, Tupperware sales flourished, utilizing "Tupperware party" to conduct sales in a group environment, using the opportunity to demonstrate product features and educate the consumer. 

Modern Marketing of Multi-Generational Products

It wasn't until she finally attended her first Tupperware party in 1998 that Pam Parish, a 35-year-old teacher's aide and mother of two children, began filling her kitchen with Tupperware. In order to reach the post-Donna Reed generation of homemakers, including "stranded" customers who had either no access to or no interest in attending a typical party, as well as new customers, the 50+ year old Tupperware began to reinvent its marketing approach in the 1990's with the following initiatives:

1. TV Shopping-Tupperware hosted six live Tupperware parties on the Home Shopping Network in 1999, with 12 additional one-hour shows planned in 2000. Sales from these shows represented no-cost advertising for products, parties, and careers with Tupperware.
2. Kiosks-The number of Tupperware kiosks in shopping malls nationwide grew from four in 1998 to over 250 open during the 1999 holiday season. Typically operated by Tupperware distributors, the kiosks provided many leads for parties and sales force recruits.
3. E-commerce-Tupperware began selling products online on August 9, 1999. Looking primarily for top-line growth, management also hoped to spark recruitment efforts and modernize the Tupperware image.
4. Direct Mail-Tupperware's work on creating a database for direct-mail marketing was designed to allow management to follow up on leads from kiosks, Internet, and party hostesses and attendees.   Rock No serve ContainerRock N' Serve Container 

The Next Generation of Tupperware Products

In 2000, Morison Cousins noted several design trends at Tupperware, including the success of more durable, upscale products such as "Rock and Serve". This product line incorporated a conventional Tupperware polypropylene seal with a more durable, transparent polycarbonate canister, which resisted high-temperature pitting that sometimes occurred in microwavable containers.  

NOTE 

In 1999, Cousins' mother passed away at age 91. Up to that time, she had lived in her own home, driven her own car, and cared for herself. Among the possessions passed down was her collection of much-used Tupperware products.

References 

Company Report, October 6, 1999 - Tupperware. Wall Street Transcript Corporation. 1999.

The Investext Group. Hoover's Handbook of American Companies, 1996, p. 706. 

Schneider, M. "Tupperware Moves Its Parties to the Mall". The Los Angeles Times, May 7, 1999. Orange County Edition, p. 7.

The Times Mirror Company, 1999. The Art of the Seal, Metropolis, Sept., 1995, pp. 47-53. 

Transgenerational Design, Pirkl, James J., Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 1994, p. 146.

October, 2000

   
           
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