May 3, 2023

Tupperware® – a tale of two (IP) issues


First published in Bay of Plenty Business News May 2023 edition

In early April, news broke1 that Tupperware®, the well known US-based food storage brand, is in serious trouble.

With rising debts and falling sales, Tupperware warned that it could go bust unless it can quickly raise new financing.2

Tupperware seemingly finds itself in this predicament as a result of a failure to innovate, both in product design and distribution methods, and despite attempts to freshen up its products in recent years and reposition itself to a younger audience.3 As one expert reportedly4 commented, Tupperware – while considered innovative many years ago – was perhaps not as inventive and stylish as other (kitchenware) brands such as Joseph Joseph.5

Add to its innovation woes the arguable fact that ‘Tupperware’ the brand name has become a common name in general public use (in trade mark speak, ‘generic’) for food storage containers, and Tupperware (the company) faces a task of Herculean proportions to survive, let alone once again prosper.

Tupperware’s problems highlight the need for all businesses to ‘stay relevant’: that is, continually innovate in product and/or service design and delivery to meet the needs and wants of consumers. As Peter Drucker6 once declared, businesses must “innovate or die”. In more common parlance, “stay ahead of the pace of change or you’re toast”. In saying this, it is important to note that innovation doesn’t have to come with a huge price tag: innovation can be small and cheap – it might be a small change in how you do something, or a slight shift in how you communicate what you do. Big or small, opportunities for innovation are everywhere  – you just have to be open to them.

Tupperware’s problems also highlight the need for brand owners to protect their brand name from becoming ‘generic’– as ‘Escalator’ and ‘Aspirin’, for example, did and ‘Sellotape’ and ‘Jandals’ arguably have (at least in New Zealand). Stopping a trade mark from becoming generic in New Zealand requires a fine balance of promotion and policing (as Tasman Insulation, the maker of ‘Pink Batts’ insulation, found out in the course of litigation between 2012 and 20158). Promote the name too much in a manner which makes consumers perceive it as noun, or fail to stop people from using the name as a noun, and brand owners could find themselves in Tupperware’s shoes or, worse, facing a claim to de-register their trade mark.

It will be a huge pity if the lid on Tupperware’s future is firmly sealed shut in the next few months. I, for one, hope the brand can be saved – all it needs (apart from a shed load of money) is the right kind of love.


  1. “Tupperware warns of collapse unless it finds funds”
  2. “Tupperware: Why the household name could soon be history”
  3. As fn 2 above
  4. Neil Saunders, managing director of retail at the consultancy GlobalData, see fn 2 above
  6. Peter Drucker was an influential Austrian-American author, mentor and consultant who is considered the father of modern business management:
  8. See Tasman Insulation New Zealand Limited v Knauf Insulation Limited [2014] NZHC 960 and Tasman Insulation New Zealand Ltd v Knauf Insulation Ltd [2015] NZCA 602

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