Hail To The Peeps


Official website of Just Born and PEEPS with facts, products, recipes, contests: http://www.marshmallowpeeps.com/

PEEPS fan site with videos, polls, quizzes, links, forums: http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/marshmallow-peeps

Rapper Candy Rap: http://rapgenius.com/Destorm-candy-rapping-lyrics#note-794406

Scientific research into PEEP health, safety, and reaction to stimuli: http://www.peepresearch.org/

National High Magnetic Field Laboratory PEEPS and Atmosphere: http://www.magnet.fsu.edu/education/tutorials/slideshows/belljar/index.html

Pioneer Press Entries: http://www.twincities.com/peeps

Washington Post Entries: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/peeps

American Bar Association “Peeps in Law” entries: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/peeps2013_winners/

Carroll County Arts Council – winners from 2008 to 2013: http://www.flickr.com/photos/15364898@N08/collections/72157623536177678/

Smithsonian Magazine: 5 Ways to Cook with PEEPS: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/food/2013/03/five-ways-to-cook-with-peeps/

Recipe for PEEPS brulee: http://www.salon.com/2010/04/03/toasted_peeps_brulee_recipe/

Sam Born knew candy like Steve Jobs knew computers. He invented Jimmies – the chocolate bits sprinkled on ice cream and donuts, a machine to insert sticks into lollipops, and the hard chocolate coating used in Eskimo Pies. When he bought out a rival company in 1953, he liked one candy in particular. It was a little yellow marshmallow treat in the shape of a baby chick – called PEEPS. He thought it might be a good seller at Easter, but he never imagined that PEEPS would become not only a staple of every self-respecting Easter basket but a pop culture icon spawning websites, videos, blogs, recipes, and dozens of art exhibitions and contests using PEEPS as the artistic medium.

Maybe it’s the high sugar content, but something about the quirky confection of gelatin, sugar, and corn syrup activates the imagination in unusual ways. “Star Wars” and “Jaws,” re-cast with PEEPS in the leading roles, are found on You Tube. A team at Emory University studied PEEPS’ vulnerability to various substances like water and liquid nitrogen, and learned that cigarettes are just as damaging to PEEPS as they are to humans.  The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory uses PEEPS in an on-line slide show demonstrating how air pressure affects objects.

Marshmallows expand when microwaved, a phenomenon which inspired the sport of PEEPS Jousting. In a joust, two PEEPS face each other, each “armed” with a toothpick stuck in its little yellow belly. As they expand, the first one to touch its rival with the toothpick wins the contest. (Hint: fresh PEEPS expand faster than stale ones.)

On the culinary side, PEEPS foodies share recipes for PEEP-stuffed brownies and fondues. They show up as a variation on the marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole at Thanksgiving. There’s even an Easter version of the Thanksgiving Turducken. Instead of a chicken stuffed in a duck stuffed in a turkey, the PEEPS version is a Cadbury Crème egg, stuffed into a PEEP, which is stuffed into a hollow chocolate bunny.

But the biggest cultural impact of PEEPS is in the arts. In 2004, the Twin Cities Pioneer Press in St. Paul-Minneapolis held a PEEPS Diorama contest. “We were looking for a feature for our Easter Sunday paper,” says reporter Richard Chin. “I spend a fair amount of time surfing the web for feature story ideas, so I knew there was this PEEPS subculture, and that some people use PEEPS in dioramas. So we held this contest. Create a diorama using PEEPS.”

The idea struck a chord with creative types who have no talent with paintbrushes, pottery wheels, or basket weaving. The paper hoped for 10 or 12 entries; it got 40. The subjects were as whimsical and pun-centric as a concert by “PEEPle Rain” and the DNA double helix represented by different colored PEEPS and as dark as scenes from Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ.” At the annual convention of the American Association of Sunday and Features Editors that year, Chin’s boss told the other editors about the contest, and the diorama fad took off like a PEEP fired from a slingshot. At least a dozen newspapers now hold contests, including the Washington Post, Seattle Times, and the San Jose Mercury News. It’s expanded into education; Macalester College requires that dioramas depict classic or historical moments, and MIT requires some connection to the school. Even as august an organization as the American Bar Association gets into the act with its “PEEPS in Law” contest. Entries must depict court, law, or justice inspired scenes, like the Preamble to the Constitution, the BPEEP Oil Spill, and Wiki-PEEPS.

Chin says his favorite entries are those that are instantly recognizable and recast in candy, like the crop dusting scene from the movie “North by Northwest.” News events are always popular. Washington Post entries have included the ditching of Flight 1549 in the Hudson River and a “funeral” for Twinkies.

“I keep thinking there’s going to be PEEPS fatigue,” says Chin, who is bemused by his role as instigator of a pop culture phenomenon. “But every year, we get more entries. A lot of them are really edgy, which I find compelling” like the shower scene from “Psycho” that was created by a group of teenage Catholic schoolgirls. “It’s amazing the lengths that people will go to for glory,” especially when the prizes are rarely more than bragging rights and a gift certificate to the PEEPS website.  (In recognition of the dental damage PEEPS can cause, the Pioneer Press prize is a toothbrush.)

Quick to exploit the popularity of the contests, “legitimate” art venues hold their own PEEPS exhibits. The Racine, WI Art Museum’s annual “PEEPS Show” (what else?) is a natural extension of the museum’s mission, according to Jessica Schafer, the museum’s marketing manager.

“Racine has a manufacturing background and a history of innovations and patents. Our collection focuses on contemporary crafts made after the 1930s, so the idea of crafting something from an unusual material is immediately understood. And that gets people making art who never thought they could.”

While most contests let artists use other edibles in their creations, Racine’s rules prohibit any food other than PEEPS from being used. “We had problems with things going stale or not staying put.” Jelly beans, in particular, seem to migrate away from their dioramas. Some end up on the floor; others may be nibbled by visitors. The show gets great coverage from local media, including live shots on the area’s morning TV show, and draws about 4,000 visitors “which gives us a chance to expose them to the rest of the collection.”

Near Baltimore, MD, the Carroll County Arts Council expanded the diorama idea. “Our show lets people use PEEPS for any kind of creation,” says Sandy Oxx, Executive Director. “We have dioramas, but also clothing, mosaics, and sculptures” like a life-sized Big Bird and Homer Simpson on his skateboard. There are even stop-action films shown on the full-sized movie screen at the Art Center. It’s a successful fund-raiser, too. While many contests are judged by on-line voting or an in-house panel, the Arts Council requires people visit the show in person. “They buy tokens and put them in a box in front of each entry to vote. We raised over $11,000 dollars last year.”

Originally, it took 27 hours to fashion each PEEP by hand. A streamlined mechanized process now cuts that to 6 minutes. Just Born hatches over 1-billion PEEPS a year in its Bethlehem, PA home. That’s enough marshmallow birds to circle the planet twice. The original yellow bird now has blue, pink, lavender, and green siblings at Easter and has been joined by seasonal cousins – marshmallow hearts for Valentines’ Day, patriotic stars at the 4th of July, orange pumpkins at Halloween, and snowmen and evergreen trees at Christmas.

In addition to PEEPS, Just Born makes Mike & Ike, Hot Tamales, and Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews. It’s opened three retail stores: in Bethlehem, at the Mall of America in Minnesota, and at National Harbor, just outside Washington, DC. Fans can buy PEEPS-emblazoned t-shirts, calendars, scented nail polish, iPhone cases, PEEPS-stamped golf balls, recipe books, laptop sleeves, and plush PEEPS, not to mention every variety of all of the candies in regular and giant sizes, sampler packages, and gift baskets.

Back in Bethlehem, Just Born sponsors PEEPSFEST held the last two days of the year. A giant Christmas tree decorated entirely with PEEPS overlooks the family oriented activities and entertainment, which culminates in the drop of a 4.5-foot, 85-pound yellow PEEP to greet the New Year. There’s picture-taking with a PEEP mascot, bonfire with PEEPS s’mores, and PEEPS-themed arts and crafts including, of course, dioramas.