Air-tight business

Yvonne Sontag knows how to throw a party when it comes to selling Tupperware for 42 years

Photo by Jim Muchlinski Yvonne Sontag of rural Minneota introduces customers to a wide range of Tupperware products at parties and trade shows. She has served as a Tupperware consultant since 1978.

Back in 1978, Minneota’s Yvonne Sontag thought Tupperware sounded like a good opportunity to earn extra income.

Forty-two years later, she’s still selling Tupperware. She takes part in about one Tupperware party a week on average, and also shows her products at the Lyon County Fair and Minneota’s annual Boxelder Bug Days.

Besides the income, she enjoys the people-oriented side of Tupperware, something that goes back to the company’s early years.

“It started out as a new department store item,” Sontag said. “It didn’t do all that well on the shelves. Plastic containers were a new idea at the time. They earned public acceptance with help from direct personal selling.”

Tupperware was started in 1946 by Earl Tupper of Massachusetts. He was a German-born inventor who specialized in innovations using plastic industry by-products. His greatest success was the creation of air-tight seals that could be used to extend the storage value of food products.

His company grew throughout the United States until it was sold to Rexall in 1958. It then expanded into international markets.

Its very first innovations — which included shakers, tumblers with durable seals, and plastic caps with attached rings — were followed by a large product line with containers of all shapes and sizes.

“The 1960s and 1970s were a growth spurt,” Sontag said. “It’s remained successful since then because the products have a very good reputation. Younger customers remember how their mothers and grandmothers used them.”

She noted that her earliest years of sales had an emphasis on Tupperware’s best known color scheme. Its olive green, lemon yellow, burnt orange and cocoa brown kitchenware matched kitchen decorating that was popular at the time.

Those colors have given way to new choices for kitchen decorating that favor more neutral shades. Choices also often come down to having items that blend in with the overall kitchen decor rather than standing out.

“The decorating trends are a factor in the final design and appearance of the products,” she said. “They almost always start on the coasts and move to the interior of the United States. The company tries to stay in step with the newest preferences.”

Tupperware also moved toward additional products that sometimes aren’t associated with its name. Its children’s toy line included a popular red and blue toy with insertable yellow blocks. It turned plastic into everyday items such as poker chips. A cigarette holder was created for Camel cigarettes.

More recently some of Tupperware’s innovations have coincided with new food industry technology. A grill unit and a pressure cooker item are both designed to suit microwave cooking. They replicate the grilled and steamed flavor of selected foods with the faster timing of a microwave oven.

One of the newer products is a reusable plastic straw, which is helping to save on the amount of waste generated by traditional disposable plastics.

“Tupperware has always been known for durability and long product life,” Sontag said. “That’s becoming even more important in the 21st century because of the way many plastics are thrown away after only being used once.”

Tupperware sales have fit well with Sontag’s overall career. She worked in child care and was later employed by the Schwan Food Co. for 13 years.

The basic person-to-person sales strategy has remained very similar to the late 1970s. The Tupperware Lady jingle and advertisements gave way in the 1980s to a more diverse sales force as men began selling the products.

Parties are still attended by about 15 guests, the approximate number of people that can comfortably be entertained in an average-sized home.

They generate a substantially higher income in the 21st century because of inflation combined with product innovation. A salesperson used to generate about $90 for an average party, but now can make about $600 and thereby realize more of a commission.

Sontag said she’s taken advantage of the company’s sales incentives. In 1994 it earned her the chance to compete in a national demonstrations event held in Florida, where eight finalists were treated to accomodations and a $250 shopping spree.

“The incentives have always motivated me,” she said. “I enjoy the work because of the chance to meet lots of people and have repeat customers. When I show at an event, it’s sometimes almost like a family reunion.”

Michelle Freitas of Cottonwood has been one of Sontag’s customers for more than 15 years. She continues to buy Tupperware because of its quality and its steady innovations with technology.

“My mother used them, so I was confident in the products,” Freitas said. “I’ve organized my kitchen around what I buy from Tupperware. I like the quality and the fact that they last a long time. They’re a good investment.”


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