How Peeps Propaganda Took Over Easter

Across the decades, Peeps have evolved from an Easter staple to a technicolor national obsession.

My family has hosted a Peeps diorama contest for the past decade, and we've done everything from Hunger Games Peeps to Flaming Peeps (yes, we set them on fire). My cousin once crafted a Peeps water ski show, and my aunt and uncle made a "Welcome Home Soldier" diorama of Peeps riding Harleys. After I completed the Chicago Triathlon, my mother decided she needed to memorialize my swim-bike-run in marshmallow chick form. Long story short: We love Peeps.

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While some news outlets such as The Washington Post and ABA Journal have canceled their long-running contests in recent years, others like The Virginian-Pilot, The Twin Cities Pioneer Press, the Napa County Library in California, and Wisconsin's Racine Art Museum's "Annual International Peeps Art Competition" continue the tradition.

But contest or no contest, Peeps are everywhere in 2022. Walk into any Target or CVS and it seems like the obsession with Peeps has only grown bigger over time. From Build-a-Bear and Pez to Sally Hansen, everywhere you look, a new brand is collaborating with Peeps. But why? What's the reason behind Peeps' meteoric rise to Easter supremacy?

A brief history of Peeps

It's hard to tell when this obsession with Peeps began. Just Born Quality Confections, the parent company of Peeps based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, started making the marshmallow chicks 69 years ago when it acquired Lancaster, Pennsylvania–based Rodda Candy Company in 1953.

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"We were really focused on chocolate and jelly beans, and little did we know that in the back room they were making Peeps chicks by hand out of pastry tubes," says Caitlin Servian, brand manager of Peeps and seasonal candy for Just Born.

Back then it took 27 hours to create a package of chicks—these days it takes six minutes. Just Born says that the company now makes 5.5 million Peeps per day (3,819 Peeps per minute) in a 24-hour-a-day, five-day-a-week facility.

"When the internet came around in the late '90s and early 2000s, that's when we realized there were so many Peeps fans who had websites out there before we even had our own website," Servian says.

Peeps fandom is widespread

For Joni Proffitt from St. Paul, Minnesota, her obsession started as a child when she'd receive Peeps in her Easter basket. "They're just so fun to bite into," Proffitt says. "They have that sweetness tickling your taste buds."

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The rabid fan shopped for merchandise at Mall of America's Peeps and Company store until it closed four years ago. Now she shops online at PeepsAndCompany.com. Her collection, which she estimates includes more than 150 items, ranges from T-shirts, coffee mugs, and refrigerator magnets to a beach towel, a hanging Peeps mobile, lapel pins, a prized glass figurine, and a variety of plush toys, including a 23-inch "mega yellow chick."

"Now that I'm retired, I don't have too many lousy days," says Proffitt, 68, who worked for several insurance companies and for the State of Minnesota Department of Commerce as a property casualty analyst. "But Peeps always bring a smile to my face. There's a kind of childlike joy they bring out."

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She's not alone. On Instagram, people have tagged more than 907,000 posts using #Peeps. On Etsy, search under "Peeps Fan" and there's an assortment of makers creating their personalized version of Peeps. FanPop.com has a "Marshmallow Peeps Club" to see what others have done with Peeps.

According to the ABA Journal, the St. Paul Pioneer Press hosted the first official Peeps diorama competition in 2004, the same year Just Born began licensing its Peeps brand. The Washington Post hosted an annual Peeps contest for more than a decade before ending its tradition in 2017. A year later the ABA Journal canceled its contest as well.

The Peeps licensing explosion

By that time, though, Just Born had launched a retail arm of its business, establishing partnerships with other companies. This included a collaboration with Rita's Italian Ice for a seasonal Peeps-branded Marshmallow Candy flavored ice in 2010 (and again in 2017). It also partnered with Carlinville, Illinois–based Prairie Farms to create Peeps Milk in Chocolate Marshmallow, Marshmallow, and Easter Egg Nog flavors in 2015.

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In addition to these partnerships, flavored Peeps were added to the Just Born lineup in 2013, starting with Easter Party Cake Flavored chicks and expanding outward from there. This year, the lineup features around 25 different varieties, from sour watermelon to chocolate dipped.

Just Born has expanded its Peeps ventures over the past decade, partnering with Dunkin' for Peeps flavored coffee and donuts in 2019 (after an initial Peeps donut mashup in 2014). It also worked with Chicago-based Mondelēz to create a limited-edition Peeps Oreo (which turned both tongues and poop pink from the dye) in 2017.

"That was probably the first big, noticeable national presence where we combined our very well-known brand with another," says Keith Domalewski, director of marketing and consumer engagement at Just Born about the Peeps/Oreo partnership.

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Since then Domalewski says there's been a variety of national partnerships, including Kellogg's Peeps cereal (currently available for purchase), Peeps-flavored Pepsi in 2021, and a new partnership with Cold Stone Creamery this year for Peeps flavored ice cream.

Not everything has been pure sweetness. A fight with its union workers pit mechanics and candy makers against Just Born in a 2016 strike over pension benefits culminated in a lawsuit. Ultimately, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of Peeps workers.

Last February, Just Born put the marshmallow treats back into production after taking a nine-month pandemic break, it says, to protect employees' health and safety.

Despite these troubles, all the fanfare around Peeps has continued unabated. In Westminister, Maryland, the Carroll County Arts Council is hosting its 15th annual Peep Show filled with Peep-created life-size sculptures, dioramas, mosaics, and videos.

On New Year's Eve, Peeps fans can head to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to attend PEEPSFEST, which includes live bands, a 5K run, a diorama contest, and photos with the Peepsmobile and Peeps Chick. Instead of a ball drop, a massive 400-pound, 4-foot-9 yellow Peeps chick drop signals the countdown to midnight.

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Peeps, Peeps everywhere

There really are more Peeps now, especially around Easter. It's not just your imagination.

Each year there are more licensing agreements and collaborations than before, says Domalewski, who declined to say exactly how many partnerships and licensing agreements have been done with the private company.

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These agreements don't only result in new novelty products for purchase. Adam Levinson, cofounder of Houston-based virtual running company Medal Dash, licensed the Peeps brand from Just Born to host the first virtual Peeps® run this year.

Medal Dash, which has more than 30,000 members in its Facebook group, has more than 3,500 people registered for its first "Running With My Peeps" virtual 5K, 10K, or 13.1-mile run this year. Levinson anticipates the race will include more than 6,000 participants by Easter.

"We thought about doing Peeps for an Easter race because the two have become synonymous," Levinson says. "Just like eggnog at Christmas. It's become associated with the holiday, and a lot of people gravitate towards it."

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For many fans, inedible merchandise is the best way to enjoy Peeps, from the plush Peeps figures—the yellow bunny is the most popular, according to Just Born—to the ceramic and wooden decorations.

"For me, it takes me back to being a kid," says Bethany Patterson, who owns The Pink Hutch, which sells curated and handmade décor, and who created an Instagram reel homage to her love of Peeps. "They're very nostalgic. You don't even have to like the candy version. I sure don't! But I love the merchandise and the decor. The colors brighten up spring, which is much needed after drabby winters."

 

 

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