The family-owned company that created this tradition, Just Born, Inc., has its own history going back to 1910, when Just Born’s founder, Sam Born, emigrated to the United States from Russia. According to the company, he introduced “French chocolates” to New York City and in 1916 was given the keys to San Francisco for inventing a machine that mechanically inserted sticks into lollipops. Born started Just Born as a candy manufacturing business in Brooklyn, New York, in 1923, and relocated to Bethlehem, Penn., in 1932.
In 1953, the company acquired the Rodda Candy Company, which laboriously made marshmallow Easter Peeps by hand. Sam Born’s son, Bob Born, came up with a way to mechanize the marshmallow-forming process, and modern Peeps were born. The company says it can produce more than 4.2 million Peeps each day.
Flavor of the Times
The classic yellow chick-shaped marshmallow candies have not changed much in the more than 50 years since they were introduced to the mass market. But in the spirit of springtime renewal, Just Born has brought new guises of Peeps into the world over the years. In addition to the iconic yellow, the chicks are available in pink, purple, blue, green and orange, as well as sugar-free, and Peeps Marshmallow Bunnies are available in marshmallow and chocolate mousse flavors.
This Easter season, Just Born has introduced Peeps Chocolate Dipped Chicks, available with a partial covering of milk or dark chocolate, and Peeps Chocolate Dipped Chicks, which get a full coat of milk or dark chocolate and come in individual packages. Also new this season are Peepsters, which are individually wrapped marshmallow-flavored creme candies covered in milk or dark chocolate.
Although Peeps are most associated with Easter, Just Born’s holiday celebrations don’t stop there. Starting in 1958, Just Born started offering pumpkin-shaped Peeps, which have been joined by marshmallow ghosts and cats. Snowmen and Christmas trees were introduced in 1960, with the Christmas offering now also including stars, reindeer and cookie-shaped marshmallow candies. Various flavors of hearts are offered for Valentine’s Day, and this year, Just Born delivered 10,000 Chocolate Covered Raspberry Flavored Marshmallow Hearts for Valentine’s Day celebrations in Loveland, Colo.
Just Born also branched out with its own retail store, Peeps and Company, which opened in 2009 in National Harbor, Md. The peepsandcompany.com online store opened this year, promoted by Peeps’ “Random Acts of Sweetness” tour, featuring a Volkswagen Beetle with a huge Peeps chick on top and offering free candy and prizes to Peeps fans in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest.
A Spring in Its Step
The company’s marketing emphasizes the sweet candy nature of Peeps, and its brand identity is clearly aimed at childish tastes. Its website is a riot of pastel colors and animation, with what must be one of the most annoying theme songs on any web page ever – an instrumental marching-band-esque ditty combining what sounds like a tuba and player piano – that immerses users into the Technicolor cartoon land of Peeps, where everything is bright and happy. Users can create custom Peeps characters, join a fan club, learn about the history of Peeps and get recipes and ideas for craft projects, including the “Peeps Flowerpot Topiary.”
AS well as appealing to children, the brand’s marketing theme certainly taps into the nostalgia for childhood that is a broad part of the brand’s appeal for adults.
However, Peeps’ appeal is not just a matter of taste or tradition. The texture and shape of Peeps make it almost irresistible for people to resist playing with their food, and the candies have become the medium of a vast range of self-expression. Martha Stewart made an Easter wreath with them, while The Washington Post and other publications sponsor annual contests for art created with Peeps. In Racine, Wis., the Racine Art Museum will exhibit entries in its Peeps art contest at the museum during the month of April.
But there is also a darker side to Peeps. There are the plethora of YouTube videos dedicated to microwaving Peeps and destroying them in other ways as well. A “Peep Research” website shows experiments dedicated to finding ways to dissolve Peeps (Apparently, soaking them in water, acetone, sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide had no effect, and, while immersion in the powerful solvent phenol did the trick for the body, nothing tried could dissolve Peeps eyes).
While the shiny, happy “official” narrative of Peeps – a sweet Easter treat that celebrates spring – is certainly an important part of its brand story, the destructive impulses that the joined-at-the-hip chicks seem to create may also have something to do with the candies’ enduring popularity.