Behind the spectacular rise of the Mason jar

Maybe you can’t remember the first time you noticed that your drink came in a Mason jar. It was a drink that used to come in a normal drinking glass. Now, it’s served in the down-home, aww-shucks, laid-back vessel-of-the-moment…. why is it that Mason jars are now, in fact, everywhere?

There are Mason jars for canning, obviously. There are Mason jars for jam. Then there Mason jars repurposed as lanterns and soap dispensers and tiki torches and iPod speakers. Mason jars as storage for sugar, spices, candy, matches, cupcake liners, loose change. … Mason jars on every design blog, Mason jars in all the magazines, endlessly refreshing pages and pages of Mason jars on Etsy, on Instagram, on Pinterest. Go ahead and scroll, scroll until your index finger curls back in on itself in a permanent come-hither bend, and you will never reach the bottom of the Pinterest page of Mason jars. The limit does not exist.

Or perhaps it does. Have we reached peak Mason jar? Or is the Mason jar reaching the end of its reign?
Ball Mason jars have been around for for over a century. Jarden Home Brands has been selling the Ball jars, essentially the industry standard, since it took over the 130-year old business from the Ball Corporation in 1993. Their most successful year to date? 2013.

According to Steve Hungsberg, director of marketing at Jarden, “In just the jars we sold last year alone, laid end-to-end, they’d go 90-percent of the way around the Earth.” It looks like 2014 might be the year they circumnavigate the globe: “We’re 13-percent over last year’s figures.”

Hungsberg has worked in consumer packaged goods for his entire career. “I’ve worked in canned soup, frozen pizza, hot dogs,” he said. But he’s never seen anything like the Mason jar frenzy. “I am stunned at how much people love these.”

He attributes the rise of the jars to “a perfect storm of different factors. With the economy taking a nose dive in recent years… people have wanted to focus more on the homestead, [they] want to be more economical and know more about what is going into their food. That plays into this locavore movement: people want to feel good about what they’re doing, reduce their carbon footprint, grow food themselves or get food from local farmers’ markets.”

On top of all that, there’s social media. “Take a look at the rise of Pinterest especially, which looks like it was built on a foundation of Mason jars.”

Most Mason jar enthusiasts are women, said Hungsberg, and they typically fall into two categories. “There’s the stereotype, the grandmotherly figure, who has been doing this her whole life and wants to pass it down to the new generation,” he said. The other group is “probably 25-35 age range,” he said, who love food, “want to do what’s best for their family, especially those who have kids,” and are part of “this D.I.Y. culture.”

While it might seem like the vast majority of Mason jars are used as cocktail glasses, Hungsberg’s research suggests that “roughly 70-percent of the jars that are being bought are used for canning.” The canning crowd tends to be more rural and suburban, he said, while non-canning usage is concentrated in cities.

Elements of this widespread passion for Mason jars are a little puzzling. A Mason jar is clunky and somewhat cumbersome; versatile, but also limiting. They can’t be stacked to save space, like Tupperware or drinking glasses that are narrower at the base than at the lip. They’re breakable. They are heavier and wider than the average wineglass. What’s the continuing appeal?

“I think a lot of it comes down to nostalgia,” said Hungsberg. “In times when the economy is not so great, people turn to nostalgic things. It’s appealing to know these enduring symbols. The Ball jars have always been made in America. All of those things are appealing to people.”

As for whether Mason jars will be “over” anytime soon, Hungsberg is betting the jars will stick around….. Read the full article