Independent - 12th December 1993
''SO THERE we all were, in Lisa's semi in Chingford; Bev and Liz and Elaine and Lisa and Kate and Mary and I, politely sipping our wine and waiting for the show to start. 'Have you got any Tupperware?' I whispered to my neighbour, Lucinda, a young housewife, part- time Post Office worker and mother of two small children. 'Yeah,' she said enthusiastically. 'I've got loads. I've been to hundreds of Tupperware parties.' We surveyed the Himalayan pile of moulded plastic in front of us: juice jugs and colanders, jelly moulds and salad crispers, square lunch boxes and round lunch boxes, oblong boxes, and short, squat boxes, tall lidded beakers . . .
'Just think of it as Lego for ladies,' said a smiling Mary Knights, veteran of Tupperware parties and our demonstrator for the evening, as she added a plastic cheeseboard to the ever-swelling pile. I looked at my watch. Almost eight o'clock. Time to start.
'Where's Elaine?' someone asked. 'It's EastEnders,' volunteered Liz. 'She won't get here until it's over.'
'What do you think's so good about Tupperware?', I pressed Lucinda, who seemed to be a bit of a Tupperholic. 'Well, it's just . . . it's just brilliant,' she replied, with feeling. 'I swear by it. You can do anything with it; put it in the freezer, dishwasher, microwave - anything.' There were hoots of laughter on all sides. 'You sound just like a Tupperware agent,' said Beverley. 'She's hired]' said Mary Knights.
The door opened and Elaine came in with her friend Marie. Marie looked a bit shy. It was her Tupperware debut.
'What made you decide to come?' I asked her. 'Elaine forced me,' she said, giggling. 'Do you think you'll buy anything?' 'Och, I don't know,' she replied, surveying the plethora of plastic. 'Maybe.'
Mary Knights cleared her throat and a hush descended. I sat forward on the sofa.
'Now this,' she said, 'is for Lisa for agreeing to host the party tonight.' She held aloft a white box with a dark blue lid; it looked like a potty. 'This is the new Tupperware Multi-server,' Ms Knights explained. 'It poaches fish and it cooks vegetables, pasta or rice. You just pour boiling water over the food, put the lid on and it cooks in its own steam. Very energy- saving and useful on boating or camping holidays. It would normally cost pounds 14.50 but Tupperware are giving it to Lisa as their way of saying a special thank you. And, as a little extra pressie, she also gets this small gravy jug.'
We all looked enviously at Lisa and mentally resolved to host Tupperware parties.
'And now', said Mary, 'I'm going to take you through the entire range which, as you can see, comes in four modern and attractive colours - yellow, cerise, teal and lacquer blue, a far cry from the plain white Tupperware that your mothers would have bought.'
Then, with mesmerising speed and eloquence, she proceeded to demonstrate every item on the table in front of her. She spoke at 120 words a minute for over an hour, taking us through the drinking mugs, the serving bowls, the domed server and the cheese tray, the stacking ice trays, the Super Oval storage boxes, the salad crispers and the translucent plastic Fridge Mates'.
'I thought this was going to be an Ann Summers party,' a voice interjected. 'Have you any vibrators?'
'The nearest thing we've got to a vibrator is this Quick Shake,' Ms Knights swiftly replied, holding up a clear plastic cone-shaped container with a green lid. 'It's marvellous for mixing fruit drinks and salad dressings and it only costs pounds 7.50. Now, do any of you know about the history of Tupperware?' We all shook our heads. 'Well . . . ' she began.
It all began in nineteen thirty-something with Earl Tupper. Mr Tupper was the industrial chemist who first worked out how to burn polythene slag - a by-product of oil refining - into a mouldable, commercial plastic. In 1938 he founded the Tupperware Plastics Company and introduced unbreakable food storage containers to the American housewife. But the American housewife couldn't work out how to operate the sealed lids, and sales only took off after the Tupperware had been demonstrated in-store. Home selling by trained demonstrators became so successful that in 1951 Earl Tupper took all his products out of the shops and committed the company to party-plan selling. Today, Tupperware is available in 54 countries and a Tupperware party takes place somewhere in the world every 2.7 seconds.
'Now there's a special offer on the Space Saver storage range,' said Mary. 'You get two free freezer inserts for every storage box that you buy. This Size 2 square one,' she said 'is very good for storing awkward shaped stuff like that tagliatelle. Have you got one of these Lucinda?'
'And what do you use it for?'
'And this rectangular one,' said Mary, 'is particularly good for bread sticks or spaghetti.'
The idea of decanting food stuffs out of their wrappings into storage boxes was new to me. 'So you mean you take the shredded wheat out of the packet and stick it in the plastic boxes?'
There was a stunned silence.
'Because it's hygienic, convenient and space-saving,' Ms Knights explained patiently.
'I think I'd rather have the packets,' I replied. A nervous titter went round the room.
Ms Knights concluded the demonstration and silence descended as we studied our catalogues and inspected the goods on display. 'You were a very good lot tonight,' Ms Knights confided, as I toyed with a green colander. 'Sometimes the parties are so raucous that I can hardly make myself heard.' Lucinda was already writing out a large cheque. 'I'm buying some square Space Savers and a Spice Saver Centre,' she confessed. 'I just love storing things. Do you think you're going to buy anything?'
I shook my head, although I had been momentarily tempted by a Tropical Salad Bowl. 'Oh well, never mind, maybe Tupperware isn't really for you.' She gave me a sympathetic smile. I went home, Tupperware-less, to a kitchen full of chaotic, package-filled cupboards.