A Passion for PEEPS
Story by Jill Gleeson
It’s one of the United States’ most iconic candies—just maybe the most iconic this country has ever produced. After all, what other sweet treat has had its durability tested by a world-renowned university, guest starred in a hit television show, boasted its own world eating championship, and been featured in annual art contests? No candy other than PEEPS, the sugar-coated, brightly-hued marshmallow confection made in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania by the third-generation family-owned outfit Just Born, which also produces Mike and Ike, Hot Tamales, and Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews.
Beloved though those other goodies are, none are quite as legendary as PEEPS, which for more than two decades has been Easter’s most popular non-chocolate candy, with some 1.5 billion eaten each spring—enough PEEPS to circle the globe twice! Every day, 5.5 million are made, consumed by avid PEEPaholics who debate whether fresh or slightly stale is better, make it a point to catch reruns of the epic “Malcolm in the Middle” episode that features Francis eating 100 PEEPS, and even create art out of PEEPS with names like “Edgar Allen PEEP ” and “PEEP with the Pearl Earring.”
“Over the past 66 years, the PEEPS brand has become synonymous with springtime and the Easter holiday,” says Caitlin Servian, PEEPS brand manager. “Parents who received these iconic marshmallow chicks and bunnies in their Easter baskets as kids want to pass that tradition on to their own families. Our consumers purchase the candy primarily to eat, but roughly one-third of our fans purchase it with other usages in mind. This is what we call expressing your PEEPSonality, which includes using PEEPS in recipes, crafts, decorations, art, dioramas, science experiments, and gaming activities, just to name a few!”
PEEPS have become so firmly entrenched in the country’s pop culture landscape that in 1999 two researchers at Emory University tested the candy’s resilience in a series of lab experiments that pitted PEEPS against substances like sulfuric acid. Only the chemical phenol vanquished the hardy PEEPS—which might make one wonder how long it took Matt Stonie to digest the 255 he ate in five minutes at the 2017 World PEEPS Eating Championship. There’s even a giant PEEP dropped in Bethlehem on New Year’s Eve.
Take that, Tootsie Roll.
The modern PEEPS era got rolling in 1953, when Sam Born purchased Rodda Candy Company, the original makers of the marshmallow bonbon. Born, a Russian immigrant, invented the technologies capable of producing chocolate sprinkles (“Jimmies” to fans), as well as the hard chocolate shell used to coat Eskimo pies, and the machine that inserts sticks into lollipops. Under his ownership PEEPS hit the big time, expanding from the traditional yellow chicks and bunnies into what Servian calls “seasonally-relevant shapes and flavors,” including Halloween monsters and ghosts, and Christmas trees, snowmen, and chicks flavored like peppermint bark for the holiday season. In 2007, Just Born introduced sugar-free PEEPS.
“We also have a variety of offerings we have introduced that not only appeal to current fans, but have also brought new fans into the PEEPS Brand!” says Servian. “We have flavored PEEPS, including cotton candy and fruit punch, as well as PEEPS Delights, which are PEEPS dipped in chocolate or crème-flavored fudge. Additionally, we have a lot of licensed products so people can enjoy the brand in different ways, including PEEPS Chick and Bunny shaped plush, PEEPS themed books, International Delight PEEPS-flavored coffee creamer, Kellogg’s PEEPS marshmallow flavored cereal with marshmallows, and much more.”
In fact, it seems the only thing PEEPS doesn’t have that fans want is a factory tour, which is primarily due to security and safety concerns. However, the company recently made one special exception for a good cause: Explains Servian: “We launched the PEEPS Helping Peeps Sweepstakes in January 2019 that allowed our fans to donate to the local United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley (UWGLV) for a chance to win an exclusive tour of the factory. We were amazed by the tremendous number of donations that we raised from fans across the country, with all proceeds going to UWGLV to benefit children’s education. In April, a winner was randomly selected and she and her family got to visit our headquarters in Bethlehem for a first-hand look at how our fluffy, delicious PEEPS are made!”
Plan A Trip
You may not be able to tour the PEEPS factory, but if you’re a PEEPS fan you can still pay homage to your favorite candy with a road trip to these stops in the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania.
PEEPS & Company
Located at Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley in Center Valley, this festive store offers not just the full line of Just Born candies, but also nifty PEEPS brand merchandise including clothing, accessories, and gifts like placemats, slippers, boxers, t-shirts, pillows, and more.
Billy’s Downtown Diner
With locations in Allentown, Easton and Bethlehem, Billy’s offers plenty of places where you can sip your “PEEPSuccino—an espresso with steamed milk, white chocolate, whipped cream and, of course, a PEEP!
This two-day, family-friendly event, which features a nearly five-foot, 400-pound PEEPS chick descending at 5:15 p.m. on December 31, has been going strong for more than a decade. The fun includes live bands, a disco lounge, magicians, clowns and more.
Jill Gleeson is a memorist and travel journalist living in the Appalachians of central Pennsylvania. Find her at gleesonreboots.com.