Business

How the Peeps biz stays fresh (since the chicks don't have to)

Just Born, Inc.Bethlehem (Northampton, Pennsylvania)BusinessTwitter, Inc.Joe Jonas

We’re not really sure why Sunday is referred to as “Easter.” It’d be so much more accurate to refer to it as “The Day Everyone Eats Far Too Many Peeps.”

We kid. After all, that name probably applies to most days for many people. The colorful marshmallow sweets have been around for decades, and according to Just Born Inc., the private company that makes them, they’re more popular than ever.

The Bethlehem, Pa., business also makes Mike & Ikes and Hot Tamales, but it’s the Peeps that have become a cult hit. This season, there are new Peep products, including packets of four chicks delivered on a Popsicle stick and a chocolate-mousse-flavored version dipped in chocolate.

But the yellow chicks are still the best-selling Peeps, followed by the white ones, then the pink, the lavender, the blue, green and orange. Each chick has 28 calories but no fat.

PHOTOS: The business of Peeps

Just Born was founded in 1923 by a Russian emigrant. The business is still family-owned and has roughly 600 employees.

But not much else is the same. Instead of taking 27 hours to make one Peep (as it did in 1953), the enormous Bethlehem factory can now hatch one in six minutes. More than 4.2 million Peeps roll out of the facility each day.

The candies aren’t just in grocery stores either. Just Born has three retail stores – near its Bethlehem headquarters and also in Maryland and the Mall of America in Minnesota.

The company won’t divulge financial details, but according to spokeswoman Ellie Deardorff: “Business is terrific. We had to speed up Peeps production to accommodate the increased orders.”

How does it maintain its longevity, especially among the younger set? Well, Justin Bieber and Joe Jonas are both said to be fans. The company’s Facebook account is extremely active (though its Twitter profile? Not as much).

The more than 60 Peeps-related contests – including ones where the marshmallows are manipulated into sprawling dioramas – keep interest alive. Washington, D.C., artist David Ottogalli uses Peeps to create displays that have mimicked religious shrines, the American flag … and a giant Peep.

Bed Bath and Beyond sells porcelain salt and pepper shakers shaped like the marshmallow product. Efforts to film “The Lord of the Peeps” parody are ongoing. Peeps recipes involve turning them into sushi, deep-frying them and using them in fondue.

For Halloween, friends have dressed up as Peeps. The costumes usually cost more than $30. Yes, these friends are adults.

Smithsonian magazine conducted an experiment with Peeps and concluded that fresh versions armed with a toothpick lance and microwaved are better jousters than stale ones. Speaking of, there are sites and Facebook groups dedicated to the deliciousness of stale Peeps. Just a heads-up.

And even in an increasingly health-conscious culture, Peeps (especially the sugar-free variety) seem to have their place.

“I can’t say it’s a health product – they’re not exactly part of the vegetable pyramid,” Deardorff said. “But in moderation, eating Peeps is no worse than any other treat.”

RELATED:

First Peeps store is a mecca for all their 'peeple'

For Easter, Americans will spend $16.8 billion -- $145.28 each

Follow Tiffany Hsu on Twitter and Google+

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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