You can eat them, melt them, play with them, sculpt them, age them, decorate them and name them. They are the subject of urban legends, Pinterest posts and craft contests and have been featured on "Good Morning America," "South Park" and "Jeopardy," to name a few. They are Peeps, and they've evolved from a classic Easter candy to a beloved cult classic.
These marshmallow-puffed, sugar-coated, neon-hued creatures are the product of Pennsylvania-based candy company Just Born, which also makes Mike & Ikes, Hot Tamales and Goldenberg's Peanut Chews. Peeps, however, have captured Americans' hearts, minds and imaginations like no other candy. While Peeps' popularity may be driven by populist support, Just Born has found ways to leverage our fascination with Peeps and has helped cultivate the product into an American icon.
Peeps have been around since at least the 1950s, when in 1953, to be exact, Just Born acquired the candy company that made Peeps — by hand. Bob Born, son of Just Born's founder, Sam Born, quickly went to work to modernize the process, resulting in a process that today turns out 4 million Peeps a day.
For many decades, the terms "Peeps" applied only to classic yellow marshmallow chicks with the brown eyes and wisp of marshmallow tail. Today, there is a veritable menagerie of Peeps, ranging from chicks to bunnies, ghosts, pumpkins and Christmas trees. Not only that, there are now Peeps & Co. retail stores located in Washington, D.C., at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., and in Bethlehem, Pa., near the company's headquarters.
The company believes that continuing to grow and change will help inspire its customers to find new reasons to love Peeps.
"Fans have long requested a store so that they could connect with their favorite brands throughout the year," said Aubrecia Cooper, of Peeps & Co. retail division. "[Opening stores] has been an effort in the works for some time."
The cult of Peeps
Responding to fans' interest in Peeps is part of what has helped the company continue to build the brand. Embracing people's desire to create with Peeps is another way the company has done that.
"We saw long ago that our fans love to create with Peeps," Cooper said. "Then we noted the first Peeps diorama contests hosted by the Pioneer Press and Washington Post … and we recognized the excitement these types of activities instilled among fans and we decided to support these contests with free prize packages."
The company now also sponsors its own Peeps diorama contest and posts listings to other contests on its Peeps website.
Integrating its corporate brand with organic product-based contests and pop culture mediums is part of the Peeps marketing plan.
"We work hard to make sure our fans and media are always stimulated with lots of great products and information," Cooper said. "However, once an idea or product is out there, our strong fan base certainly has a way of making sure our efforts take on a life of their own."
The company has also embraced social media — its Facebook fan page has 221,000 "likes" and it has become a Pinterest staple with users sharing their favorite Peeps recipes and creations. It also has some lower tech promotions, too. Its Peeps chick car is currently touring the South and Midwest.
"We try to stay current by using social media, and we try new strategies to build brand awareness," Cooper said. The company also regularly creates and shares new Peeps recipes on its website.
Its newest venture, the retail stores, will be rolled out slowly. There are no immediate plans to open any more stores, she said.
"While we do intend to keep growing, we want to make sure that we do so in the best interest of our customers and our business," she said. "We will work hard at refining our best practices and finding great locations that fit our store’s essence."