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 Sustainability, Housewares, Materials
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

Producers urge booming Brazilian housing market to use EPS

April 18, 2014 1:08 pm ET

Leaders in Brazil's plastics industry are asking lawmakers to mandate the use of expandable polystyrene (the raw material for expanded EPS) in new...    More

Image

'Thermoforming has nearly limitless possibilities'

April 18, 2014 12:54 pm ET

Julie McAlindon of PolyOne Corp. speaks about the future of thermoforming and the integration of Spartech Corp.    More

Image

Ascend targets nylon for auto applications, opening propylene monomer unit in Texas

April 18, 2014 10:57 am ET

Materials firm Ascend Performance Materials Inc. is in full operation at its new nylon 6/6 compounding line in Florida and will break ground by the...    More

Dutch company launching $100 million PP, PE recycling plant

April 18, 2014 10:42 am ET

Quality Circular Polymers is building a new plastics recycling operation in Geleen, the Netherlands' Chemelot industrial chemical site, with a...    More

Lumena suspends trading, delays report amid claims of 'misrepresenting' financials

April 18, 2014 10:19 am ET

China Lumena New Materials Corp., which says it has the world's largest manufacturing capacity for polyphenylene sulfide resin, has suspended its stoc...    More

Market Reports

Thermoformed Packaging 2014 Market Review & Outlook North America

This in-depth report provides analysis and discussions of economic and political conditions, market trends, legislative/regulatory activity impacting supply and demand, business opportunities and threats, materials pricing, manufacturing technology, as well as strategies being implemented by thermoformed packaging companies. In addition, there are reviews of 25 leading thermoformers in the packaging segment, assessing their growth initiatives and performance metrics over 10 years.

Learn more

Automotive Market Review and Outlook 2014 The Americas

This 75-page report features in-depth analysis of the automotive industry for the Americas. It includes discussions of market trends, legislative/regulatory activity impacting production and threats as well as design strategies being implemented by the major automakers. Detailed charts and data tables outline North American automotive production over the last five years.

Learn more

Plastics Building & Construction Market Review and Outlook 2014 with MS Excel chart data

This report provides in-depth analysis of the plastic building and construction market for North America, including discussions of trends, opportunities, threats and the latest developments in construction trends that impact plastics processors.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

May 6, 2014 - May 8, 2014Plastics in Medical Devices 2014

May 12, 2014 - May 12, 2014Plastics News Brazil Pharma Summit

September 10, 2014 - September 12, 2014Plastics Caps & Closures 2014

February 3, 2015 - February 7, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

More Events