Well Preserved: Ball Mason Jar
September 9, 2021
Harnessing an Existing Community to Drive Engagement and Brand Affinity
Imagine freshly canned peaches sitting on the kitchen counter, still warm from their water bath. Strawberry preserves are being poured into jars waiting for their lids. Pickles are resting on a pantry shelf, their big moment close at hand. What does the jar look like? More than likely, there is a Ball logo embossed on its side.
Ball jars are the Kleenex of the Mason jar world, meaning whether you call them a canning jar, a Mason jar, or a Ball jar, the Ball brand is the most timeless, highly rated—and “grandma- and grandpa-approved”—glass jar still made today.
To understand the Ball jar brand, we have to dive into the history books to 1858 when a man named John Landis Mason invented a glass jar with a screw-top lid. He patented the jar in 1857, and once his patent expired, manufacturers were all too happy to start producing the famous jars and filing their own patents for improved and altered lids without licensing anything from Mason. The honest companies, like Ball, still licensed the Mason name and included it on their jars. MasonJars.com has some of Mason’s technical drawings showing his invention. In 1913, the Ball “Perfect Mason” jar was introduced and produced, becoming one of the most trusted jars, then and now.
A Family Brand
The Ball company itself has gone through a lot of transition in the course of 141 years. In 1880, five brothers with the last name of Ball acquired the Wooden Jacket Can Company. Six years later, the brothers renamed the company the Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company. Between 1922 and 1993, the Ball company tweaked its name a few times, acquired a few companies, went public on the New York Stock Exchange, and eventually left the world of glass when it separated the canning business into its own entity, in 1993, called Alltrista, which was renamed Jarden nine years later.
The most recent transition the brand has gone through was in 2015 when a $15 billion merger united Jarden with Newell Rubbermaid to form Newell Brands. The original Ball Corporation is now in the aerospace and packaging business, and Newell Brands uses the Ball name under license. Now, considering all the hands that have touched the Ball Mason jar brand, it’s pretty outstanding that the brand did not appear to suffer. Considering the trend of the increasing number of ready-to-eat foods and readily available fast food, there was a huge opportunity for the brand to fade to obscurity and tales of old like Blockbuster, Pan Am, and Borders.
Through the years, the shape of the jar has been round, square, tall, short, wide, and narrow. The glass itself has been crystal clear, Ball Blue, and numerous other shades of the rainbow. There are even charts on how to date a Ball jar. Ball jars have been used to contain preserved foods, hold pencils and screws, make crafts and wedding decorations, and “save” many bugs from kids’ backyards.
But what makes Ball jars the preferred brand for both expert and novice canners worldwide? Well, it’s almost as if the answer came right from the heart of the New American Middle consumer’s values.
Simply The Best Jar
One Google search for “Best Mason Jars” will net you nearly 49 million results. People search for “the best jars for . . . ,” well, lots of things, including pickling, canning, drinking out of, overnight oats, salads, and crafts, and there is at least one Reddit thread devoted to the topic. One thing these search results have in common? Ball Mason jars are always the top recommendation. In fact, Business Insider has a list of the “The best Mason jars,” and two of the five are Ball brands (Ball acquired the Kerr brand in 1992).
So what makes these glass jars the best? Well, they are made in the United States out of thick glass; the lids have a tight seal, blocking out bacteria; the jars are safe for the freezer and the microwave; and there are a variety of sizes in both volume and mouth size. Oh, and although it is a product with heritage and recognition, the jars are still competitively priced.
Treehugger.com says it all: “The Mason jar is a mainstay in every zero-waste, plastic-free, home-cooking, tree-hugging household these days. Beloved by hipsters for mixing cocktails and schlepping cappuccinos, by home canners for preserving garden produce, by DIYers and Pinterest fans for organizing and decorating, the Mason jar truly is a celebrity workhorse of the 21st century.” I mean, how can you argue with that statement?
Think about your last trip to the grocery store. How much of what you bought was sold in something that could be used only for that purpose? Single-serving yogurt containers, plastic bags holding deli meat, plastic clamshells for prepared salads, frozen-meal trays—that all went into the trash, or, hopefully, to recycling.
Eating out of Mason jars has been a thing for a long time. In the last eight years, this has really become more popular due to the growing buzz surrounding reducing waste and the hazards of eating out of plastic containers. Mason jars have been used for overnight oats, salads, soups, deconstructed sushi, cheesecake, shepherd’s pie, and worms (gummy) and dirt (chocolate pudding, thankfully)—just to name a few. Other than eating out of them and canning, how else can we use these jars?
Another search on Google serves up nearly 11 million results for “zero waste ideas for Mason jars.” While most of the ideas do revolve around food storage, cooking, using as a dish alternative, and crafting, there are a lot of other ideas as well, like candles, DIY products (e.g., lotions), lights, herb gardens, and even taking the jars to the store with you to fill up in the bulk section.
Through all the research on this blog, not one Mason jar blogger, store, or article said any other jar was generally better than the Ball Mason jar. Sure, some gave Anchor Hocking a nod for a smooth-sided jar, but that’s really splitting hairs. In fact, a search of “I hate Ball jars” brings up more than two million results of people complaining about the trend of drinking out of Mason jars, not the Ball jars being inferior.
In an effort to instill more community into the Ball brand, the team at Jarden (now Newell Brands) created FreshPreserving.com as a hub for recipes, canning tips, and crafting ideas. Through building this site, they have been able to tie their community together across social media in a user-friendly experience. Take a look at the numbers on their social accounts (this community is engaged):
- Pinterest has 65,500 followers and 428,000 monthly views.
- Facebook has 839,500 followers.
- Instagram has 76,700 followers.
- YouTube has 17,700 subscribers.
Walt Disney once said, “Whatever you do, do it well.” The team working on the Ball brand is doing just that. Some companies may see success on a product line and think, “Hey! We can do that too!” and expand into products that they don’t really have the experience to win in (see Colgate Kitchen Entrees).
The Ball product line has extended into a variety of jar and lid styles, seasonings and sugars, and even canning appliances with a line called freshTECH. This line consists of three products, all meant to help make canning just a little bit easier. There is a jam-and-jelly maker, an electric water-bath canner, and a sauce maker.
Preserving Ball Mason Jars into the Future
Although the Ball Mason jar was created in 1913, it’s safe to say that this well-preserved brand should make it another 100 years. Especially since the Ball jar brand checks off three of the four New American Middle’s core values: community, family, and sustainability. That’s if the world stays the same. Given the economic and technological changes in the last 100 years, it’s a good bet that what has worked in the past won’t necessarily work in the future.
Why Does This Brand Matter to the New American Middle Audience?
How does Newell appear to be positioning the Ball brand for the next 100 years? That might actually be a great opportunity for the company. A surface glance at Newell’s main social channels and YouTube shows a solid history of product strength, the colorful end results, and the various uses Ball Mason jars have.
The opportunity here is for Newell to show what’s really inside the jars in terms of what is important to the New American Middle (that consumer supergroup that includes more than 50 percent of the US addressable audience). There are a few major opportunities that can be harnessed where brand values overlap with consumer and audience values:
- Expressing the importance of community: This is a community that is waiting with open arms to welcome more personalities or learn how canning can benefit one’s familial and local communities.
- Expressing the importance of family: Canning is a process that can bond generational gaps and bring family closer together through shared experiences. How does Ball think about how its products and brand play into new family structures and experiences?
- Expressing the importance of sustainability and environmental stewardship: The New American Middle cares deeply about the environment and taking care of our world. How are the products and the brand footprint aligning with these sentiments? Is the brand a leader in reducing waste and protecting the environment? The product usage begets a less wasteful approach. How can that impact be told in the greater scheme of the New American Middle audience and the brand’s eco footprint?
So, yes, imagine freshly canned peaches sitting on the kitchen counter, still warm from their water bath. Strawberry preserves are being poured into jars waiting for their lids. Pickles are resting on a pantry shelf, their big moment close at hand. What does that jar look like?
More importantly, what story is being told here? What experiences are being had? What memories are being created? All things considered, the future looks bright for Ball Jar.
Images: Living Homegrown, Instagram