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Tupperware trouble but collectors say party not over yet

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Key points

  • The Tupperware company, which experienced a resurgence during the pandemic, is now on the brink of collapse.
  • The news has made Australian consumers and collectors increasingly nostalgic for the 77-year-old brand.
  • A 1960s lime green lettuce keeper can sell for $35 a piece.
  • The US-based company has lost its edge to rivals, which are making cheaper, and more environmentally friendly containers.

It was peak 1970s and Sally Burke was at Tupperware party at a friend’s home in country Victoria on the same evening Neil Diamond was performing his album Hot August Night live on television.

Airtight bowls and jelly moulds were handed around the living room to the sound of Diamond belting out classics like Sweet Caroline and Cherry Cherry.

Sally Burke and her Tupperware collection at her home in Berwick.Credit: Eddie Jim

“The girls asked ‘do you mind if we watch the concert?’” Burke said. “I remember it well because it was a great night, even though I did not sell a thing. We were all glued to Neil on the television.”

The 78-year-old found herself overcome by nostalgia as she reflected on that night this week, following news that the Tupperware company, which experienced a resurgence during the pandemic, was now on the brink of collapse.

“I felt quite sad really, it has been an around an awfully long time,” said Burke, who was a Tupperware sales consultant for years in the 1970s.

“I can’t imagine any company today saying: ‘I’ll replace that broken lid for you’. They guaranteed the product for life.”

Shares in Tupperware, which is in danger of being delisted by the New York Stock Exchange, have tumbled nearly 50 per cent and the company has revealed it engaged financial advisers to help it secure financing, as doubts linger over its future.

Burke swears still swears by the 77-year-old brand, known for its trademark ‘burping’ seal, that got rid of excess air.

Over the years, she accumulated almost everything the company sold. The Tupperware aficionado’s kitchen in Berwick, in Melbourne’s south-east, is an ode to the famed container company.

Pantry shelves, kitchen drawers and the fridge are brimming with pristine, colourful plastic containers. There is her beloved collection of small bowls and the cake keeper, where she keeps her freshly baked yo-yo biscuits, and her treasured and trusty meat keeper, the perfect size to store a whole chicken.

“They have lasted all this time,” she said, adding that the only item damaged over the years was a mixing bowl, which was later given a second life as her dog’s feeding dish.

Salt and pepper shakers are the most sought after item according to vintage sellers. Credit: Eddie Jim

Her secret to longevity? Never put the plastic containers in a dishwasher or microwave.

Popularised by suburban house parties in the 1950s, where people gathered to hear the virtues of the plastic food containers, the brand gained a cult-like following the Second World War, when men returned and women were forced out of their factory jobs and back home.

The brightly coloured plastic containers, were invented by chemical engineer and tinkerer Earl Tupper, who redefined consumer plastics, becoming famous for transforming black industrial polyethylene waste into clear, flexible, lightweight, non-toxic “Poly T”.

An image from a vintage Tupperware catalogue.

But the US-based company has taken a battering and Tupperware has lost its edge to rivals, which are making cheaper, and more environmentally friendly containers.

Despite its financial troubles, the market for Tupperware is thriving in Australia. Vintage sellers say demand for the retro products has never been higher. There are Facebook groups popping up all over Victoria, devoted to selling and swapping the kitchen gadgets and storage containers.

Jonine Versace, who owns Chapel Street Bazaar, said the vintage store had sold Tupperware pieces since it opened 39 years ago.Credit: Simon Schluter

Jonine Versace, who owns Chapel Street Bazaar, said the vintage store had sold Tupperware pieces since it first opened 39 years ago. Victorians travel across the state to her Prahran store, hoping to replace a cracked lid from the 1960s, or a burned bowl.

“People have that fondness for just wanting to replace what they had,” Versace said. “The memory of mum putting the cake in the cake keeper. They want to recapture it.”

The most sought after Tupperware products in the store are the salt and pepper shakers from the 1960s.

“They are just so cute,” Versace said. “They look very sort of space age because they have got these little splayed legs and a little handle on the top.”

Lime green vintage lettuce keepers from the 1960s are also back in demand, selling for about $35 a piece.

“The early ’60s was very different from anything else they did,” Versace said. “The products from that time have such a lovely suction when you put the lid on. It’s really lovely.”

There has also been a resurgence in demand for a 1970s set of canisters that come in mustard-yellow and avocado green.

But despite booming demand, Burke could never bring herself to sell her precious haul. The holy grail remains her prized 1970s celery keeper.

“I still keep the celery in it to this day,” Burke said. “The quality is second to none.”

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