A jar takes some consumers back to the future

Aug 20, 2014

With new high tech options for consumers launching seemingly every day, it seems counterintuitive that an old time product, Mason jars, would make a dramatic comeback. Yet, according to a piece in The New York Times, sales of Ball brand jars, made by Jarden Home Brands, have doubled since 2001, and sales for the company’s food preserving products are up 25 percent in the last two years.

Mason jars were historically used to preserve fruits and vegetables over the winter, beginning in 1858. After the patent ran out in 1870, 500 jar makers jumped into the fray. Sales were especially strong during economic downturns and war periods. As mass produced food and refrigeration made headway in the 1950’s, jar sales began to fade. The category stayed stagnant up until the Y2K crisis and the 2008 recession, which provided boosts.

Lately, canning (shouldn’t it really be called jarring?) has resonated with Millennials, who like to create their own stuff, whether it be content or food, and often favor less processed food. Jarden now makes two popular brands of jars — Ball brand and Kerr — and has a Facebook page with over half a million likes, as well as an active Pinterest presence.

Meanwhile, two young entrepreneurs from Brooklyn have started selling Mason jar cocktail shakers and have sold more than 100,000, online and via Williams-Sonoma and similar retailers. Red Lobster now offers strawberry shortcake in a plastic Mason jar, while 7-Eleven sells a plastic version for Slurpees. A 7-Eleven spokesperson told The New York Times that Millennials are looking for a combination of what’s real, as they go a bit against the grain to show their individuality.

What’s behind the renewed popularity of Mason jars? What other old-time categories are ripe for resurgence and how can retailers and brands capitalize on “back to the future” trends?

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10 Comments on "A jar takes some consumers back to the future"

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Joan Treistman

I’m reluctant to believe Millennials who are buying Mason jars are conscious of the nostalgia associated. Instead, there must be an appeal that has to do with how the structure/shape and material intrinsically resonates. A young friend of mine was looking for Mason jar mugs as an alternative to serving her guests from “traditional” glasses. Wow.

I’ve seen people go crazy for old time candy—buttons on paper, sugary drinks in wax bottles. Some remember way back when and some don’t.

Can it be true as the song says, “everything old is new again”? Check out the Vermont Store catalog. It’s all there.

Cathy Hotka

Wow, I just put up six jars of bread and butter pickles last evening.

I’ll attribute this trend to ubiquitous cooking shows. Millennials take pride in their ability to whip up whatever they want, and canning is part of the home cuisine life cycle. They’re not going to post just photos of dinner on Instagram, they’ll post photos of those freshly-canned salsas and pickles too.

It’s green, it’s healthy, it’s inexpensive—we can all get behind it.

Tom Redd
Mason jars and Ball bring back memories of times when life was simple and we had less access to everything. It was a time when the news was available at 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. and that was it. Thus, we did not hear about all the anguish and horror and political stuff taking place all day. TV was simple. Basic shows without complex ads or continual bottom-of-screen reminders about upcoming shows. Also, great cartoons on Saturday mornings, and during the day moms watched “The Edge of Night.” Radio was easy—good country and rock and no complex rap/hip-hop or alternative rock designed in some cases to instill violence in people. There were fewer computers and the water cooler at the office WAS the place to hang out and get real gossip. The web was a Cold War back up tool, not a social/waste time/spend too much money platform. No cell phones, so people talked to people and CALLED them TOO, on real phones (old phones are having resurgence too). Only a few beers in the beer section of the store, no weird stuff like Jaegermeister or Redd’s Cider Beer, and smokes along with gas were cheap. Status was not a… Read more »
Ed Dunn
3 years 1 month ago

This goes back to the previous article over a year and a half ago:

Victorian-era products actually are the most popular American product in Asian markets right now. I believe Mason jars’ multiple uses, from making natural lemonade, to pickling, to preserving fruits, to creating a mini-terrarium (all practices from the Victorian-era) is the major contributor to the resurgence.

Tony Orlando

The food channel is partially responsible for the resurgence of this, as desserts and entrees are served in restaurants inside Mason jars. This does bring back some comfortable memories, and the new age restaurants know this, so good for them. Also as food prices keep climbing, and with high-tech pressure cookers that won’t explode, canning is here to stay.

Naomi K. Shapiro
Naomi K. Shapiro
3 years 1 month ago

I don’t believe that Millennials would be familiar with good old canning and preserving in Mason jars, so I think the popularity today is someone’s good luck with a novelty. However, real Mason and canning jars are very very popular items at antique and vintage stores, and fetch a pretty price.

My mother was an acknowledged kosher dill pickle expert of Madison, Wisconsin. I can remember how picky she was about the right-sized gherkins she bought and scrubbed and pushed into the jars with a wooden spoon, and I can picture those jars of pickles lined up on the storage shelves in the cellar.

Ralph Jacobson

Well, as a grocery store manager in my distant past, I can tell you that the canning supplies category was always one of the best at collecting dust on its shelves. If mason jars are indeed seeing somewhat of a resurgence in popularity, I would look at exactly what is happening.

My perspective is that mason jars filled with a variety of products are now gaining some movement as a ready-to-give gift, as opposed to being a do-it-yourself project. I still don’t see many consumers doing the “canning” themselves. The nostalgia of a mason jar filled with jam is more appealing now, just as other nostalgic items are. However, I would be just a bit hesitant to expand shelf space for pure canning supplies at this point.

I think a section for general nostalgic products is okay, however, I don’t see them flying off the shelves in any type of retailer. This includes souvenir shops, and even specialty nostalgia stores.

Ben Ball

Can’t believe that I tuned into the ‘Wire so late this morning and missed the opportunity to contribute the REAL reason for the resurgence in Ball jar sales. Go to any liquor store or section today and look for the “authentic” (hardly) moonshine brands being sold in Ball/Mason jars. Or drop into your favorite local gastropub and see what your beverage is served in.

….from the voice of authority! 😉

Craig Sundstrom

Why not give credit to Toby Keith? “I Love This Bar” came out over a decade ago, and the song-inspired chain began shortly after that.

But no matter, I voted for “fad” over “trend,” and that’s really what’s important here for retailers: how to differentiate the between the two, embracing the latter while avoiding the former … unless of course you can actually start a fad yourself (or get in on it early). But suffice it to say, if your source of intelligence for what’s hot is the NYT, you’re already too late.

James Tenser

My wife and I recently received a set of crafted “redneck wine glasses” made from Ball jars bonded atop short glass candlestick “stems”. They are pretty handy for margaritas too.

Lots of restaurants use the jars as water and cocktail glasses these days. They are very sturdy, inexpensive and they convey a kind of hipster nostalgia.

Grocers who still consider them a canning supply that gathers dust next to the light bulb section may be surprised to see jars displayed with glassware and turning briskly in kitchen accessory stores like Bed Bath & Beyond and World Imports.


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