Reinventing the Mason jar, in plastic, for a new generation

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PMI Worldwide Pacific Marketing Inc.'s Aladdin brand introduced a plastic version of the Mason jar as tumblers last year.

The Mason jar is back. If my late Grandma Carver was still around to see the different sizes, colors and uses for the jars, she’d accuse Pop Carver of spiking the pickles she preserved in them. And Pop would be ducking when Grandma realized the trusty jars are plastic, not the traditional glass.

Grandma’s reaction would pale in comparison to John Landis Mason seeing someone sipping a smoothie out of a tinted green insulated Mason tumbler branded “Aladdin” with a handle and plastic straw sticking through the stainless steel lid.

Mason patented his jar in 1858, the threaded neck and screw-on lid sparking a home-canning revolution by making it safe and easy to preserve green beans, tomatoes, peaches, berries and other goodies fresh from the garden. He wasn’t as careful with the patent rights, assigning them to another company and eventually dying with a cupboard bare of canned food.

During its heyday from 1939 through 1949, more than 3 million Mason jars were sold. In the 1950s, canning became a lost art and demand dwindled as Americans abandoned farms for the cities.

Today, original Mason jars are prized collectibles. They also are inspiring a new generation of jars that would have Grandma asking, “What’s the world coming to?”

One of the companies behind the Mason jar’s revival is Cool Gear International.

“It’s really an iconic shape,” says David Conrad, creative director for Cool Gear. “Just by taking the top off, it became a drinking vessel.”

That happens to be Cool Gear’s specialty.

“It started as a little bit of a joke in a way,” Conrad admits, noting a typical user comment: ‘You don’t have any glasses around; we can use this.’

“When we started seeing people responding to that form, we said, ‘Okay, how do we really make this to what people want it to be and do what we do best which is an on-the-go hydration solution.’ It just became a no-brainer.”

Gaylon White

PMI Worldwide feels the same way, rolling out a stylish line of glass and plastic tumblers, food storage jars and party drink dispensers under its Aladdin brand.

“There’s a fairly significant trend in the consumer market where people are looking back to more nostalgic times when life was simpler, a little bit slower, we weren’t always on our cell phones, we weren’t quite so busy — sort of having a longing for that moment,” says Aladdin marketing manager Jenn Polanski.

Cool Gear’s Conrad adds: “We started seeing people use Mason jars in high-end restaurants to create layered salads. Now it’s become sort of a chic piece that people are serving from.”

Based on the huge success of a plastic Mason tumbler in 2013, Aladdin has expanded its collection to include more sizes and colors and a tinted green glass tumbler that’s a spitting image of Grandma’s canning jars.

“It’s made with recycled glass and it’s out of a factory in Spain,” Polanski explains. “It’s for a consumer that’s a little bit more eco-minded and really into glass over plastic.

“The future hit of the line,” according to Polanski, is going to be the 32-ounce tumbler.

Cool Gear International Cool Gear International's take on a Mason jar salad bowl and glass.

Made of SAN plastic, this mother-of-all-tumblers hits the market this summer as the thirst of ice-tea drinkers reaches its peak. It comes with a polypropylene lid and smoothie-sized straw. Of course, the plastic is BPA-free, ­although Grandma wouldn’t know the difference between BPA and WPA, the Depression-era Works Progress Administration program Pop called “We Piddle Around.”

Aladdin is feeding the Mason craving with posts on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

“People love to take pictures of themselves with the Mason,” Polanski says.

The target audience for Aladdin is women between the ages of 20 and 60.

“What we see the most on social media is the savvier 20-something year olds,” notes Polanski. “But we’re also seeing moms buying these in mass and giving them to their daughters.”

The future for the Mason jar is brighter than ever.

“The form really drives the success of it,” Conrad says. “We’ll go forward, we’ll go backward, we’ll go to the side by doing pieces that are even smaller versions for spice jars or something for the infant industry where it’s baby food.”

Even the new Mason products are collectibles.

 “People are putting together collections for their table tops that are from different patterns or even different materials — like the things your grandmother might’ve collected over the years,” Polanski says. “Duplicating that experience with new things is going to be a huge part of the next wave of this nostalgic trend.”

Come to think of it, Grandma Carver would like the new-fangled Masons. She may even have thought of new uses for the old jars on her own because she always made the most of what she had. I only wish Grandma was here to enjoy them.