Tupperware still innovating with plastics

Rebecca Kanthor
PLASTICS NEWS CORRESPONDENT

Published: December 26, 2013 7:56 am ET
Updated: December 27, 2013 8:18 am ET

Image By: Rebecca Kanthor David Kusuma

Related to this story

Topics Materials, Sustainability, Housewares
Companies & Associations Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE)

SHANGHAI — When many consumers think of plastic, Tupperware comes to mind. Thanks to the company's direct sales strategy, the famously kitschy Tupperware parties that were popular in the 1950s and still go on today; perhaps no plastic brand occupies a bigger place in American pop culture.

But Tupperware's design team is not stuck in the past. David Kusuma, vice president of product development and R&D worldwide at Tupperware Brands Corp., says the company's innovation continues.

Speaking at the Society of Plastics Engineers' first China conference, held Dec. 11-12 in Shanghai, Kusuma shared with attendees how Tupperware is experimenting with plastics as it looks to the future.

"Plastic as a material remains Tupperware's focus," Kusuma told Plastics News in an interview after his talk. "Plastics is one of the most versatile materials. You can go from soft to hard, from high temperature to low temperature. I mean, it has a wide range of possibilities."

He said the company is not out searching for new materials. "We look more at the product solution and the material is part of that in order to solve that problem."

Pressure from consumers and exciting new innovations have led the company to look into bio-based plastics. Tupperware has launched several biomaterial products in the past to test the market.

"They've all been well received," Kusuma said. "We have a consumer base that is very much expecting us to go into this area."

But he added that the company is not completely sold on biomaterials.

"I should mention," he continued, "that in life-cycle assessments that we have done, some also point to the fact that not all biopolymers are necessarily earth-friendly. … It turns out its carbon footprint could be higher than other raw materials. So you really have to look at it one at a time."

Speaking of environmental issues, Kusuma challenged the perception that plastics are bad for the environment.

"We consider ourselves to already be very environmentally friendly because our products are designed for long use. We've even done lifecycle assessments on our products vs. limited life products, and there is a really big difference in less use of energy [and] less carbon footprint," he said.

Tupperware products are known for their durability, and Kusuma said customers pass down their sets from generation to generation. In some markets, Tupperware products have a lifetime warranty.

The company has done well developing products for specific local markets, he said, including kimchi containers in Korea, kimono keepers in Japan, and masala containers in India.

One example of a highly successful product Tupperware launched was cheese containers. The containers featured a semi-permeable membrane that helped manage the moisture content of the cheese in a refrigerated state.

"The science is very simple," Kusuma said. "It is basically moving moisture from an area of high vapor pressure to an area of low vapor pressure," But simple science translated into big sales. "It quickly became the No. 1 product in Europe, our most mature market at the time, for a while," he said.

As for current projects, Kusuma remained coy. "I'm excited about a lot of things. Can't talk about many — that's the problem." He did mention that Tupperware is currently working on projects requiring material solutions and multi-component molding.

In his presentation to conference attendees, he gave a peek behind the scenes to share several projects that the R&D team is researching. Each was related to the four strategic target issues for consumers that the company has identified to help focus the company's design direction: health, organization, money, and environment.

One research project that piqued the interest of attendees was how to apply the lotus effect in plastics. The lotus flower leaf has self-cleaning and water-repelling capabilities that have long fascinated researchers, including those working on plastic applications. Kusuma said the idea of self-cleaning kitchenware is alluring, but he is unsure about the quality of the results.

"You can achieve it provided that you like the results," he said. "You have to qualify it. You heard questions of durability, it is a big issue." He shared the example at the conference to see if others were working on the same problem. Judging from the audience response, there were more than a few.

"It's one of the interesting topics, but there are so many of them and there are a lot more innovative things that are a lot more real," he said.

He said Tupperware aims for a 50 percent success rate in projects at the R&D stage.

"We have a very detailed R&D strategy and we just tackle it one year at a time," Kusuma said.


Comments

Tupperware still innovating with plastics

Rebecca Kanthor
PLASTICS NEWS CORRESPONDENT

Published: December 26, 2013 7:56 am ET
Updated: December 27, 2013 8:18 am ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

Major packaging merger includes plastics operations

January 26, 2015 12:24 pm ET

A merger of packaging companies MeadWestvaco Corp. and Rock-Tenn Inc. will create a new company with nearly $16 billion in annual sales.    More

Image

Auto industry on the hunt for new lightweight materials

January 26, 2015 4:03 pm ET

The auto industry is focusing on lightweighting, and this is igniting a race to find new materials that can meet ever-changing performance needs of...    More

Image

SPE toy donation rolls into 15th year

January 26, 2015 2:01 pm ET

Continuing its holiday tradition, the Detroit section of the Society of Plastics Engineers donated more than 30,000 toys to Detroit-area charities in ...    More

Image

Material Insights: PP production issues, preparing for NPE

January 26, 2015 1:38 pm ET

Production problems in Texas add more complication for polypropylene, Entek has new equipment ready to show compounders at NPE and we take a look...    More

Image

Continental builds low-emission interior trim factory in China

January 26, 2015 12:33 pm ET

Benecke-Kaliko AG is making the largest investment in its history to build an environmentally friendly auto interior trim plant in China, prompted by ...    More

Market Reports

Plastics in Automotive: Innovation & Emerging Trends

This special report newly released by PN and sponsored by The Conair Group examines current trends in the use of plastics in automotive, materials innovations and the changing landscape. It includes a review of legislative/regulatory activity impacting vehicle development and lightweighting, market opportunities & challenges for mold and toolmakers, innovative design strategies being implemented by major OEMs and suppliers, as well as a review of key indicators in Canada, Mexico, Brazil and China.

Learn more

Plastics Recycling Trends in North America

This report is a review and analysis of the North American Plastics Recycling Industry, including key trends and statistics based on 2013 performance. We examine market environment factors, regulatory issues, industry challenges, key drivers and emerging trends in post-consumer and post-industrial recycling.

Learn more

Injection Molding Market Analysis & Processor Rankings

Plastics News BUNDLED package contains our in-depth Market Analysis of the Injection Molding segment. You will gain keen insight on current trends and our economic outlook.

As a BONUS this includes PN's updated 2014 database of North American Injection Molders RANKED by sales volume. Sort, merge, mail & prospect by end market, materials processed, region, # of plants and more.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

February 4, 2015 - February 6, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

June 2, 2015 - June 3, 2015Plastics Financial Summit - Chicago 2015

September 16, 2015 - September 18, 2015Plastics Caps & Closures - September 2015

More Events