Food & Drink

Feast Q&A: Once just Easter candy, Peeps take on life of their own

This “Left Shark Peeps” diorama, inspired by Katy Perry’s 2015 Super Bowl halftime show, used more than 500 Peeps.
This “Left Shark Peeps” diorama, inspired by Katy Perry’s 2015 Super Bowl halftime show, used more than 500 Peeps. Courtesy Just Born Inc.

Every year, about 2 billion marshmallow chicks, bunnies and other classic confections come bouncing out of the Just Born factory in Bethlehem, Pa., to feed America’s appetite for Peeps.

What’s in a Peep? Sugar, corn syrup and gelatin (plus a little bit of food dye and natural flavoring); that adds up to 28 calories per chick or bunny. (But who’s counting?) Via custom candy-making machinery, these marshmallow classics are mixed, formed and coated by the thousands to keep up with demand, which is three times higher than 20 years ago.

With more than a dozen varieties in several colors, these candies aren’t just for eating; they’re favorite fodder for creative crafters, kitchen science experiments and YouTube videos. (Want examples? See www.marshmallowpeeps.com.)

Easter is prime time for Peeps lovers with production peaking at 5.5 million a day before Sunday’s holiday. In anticipation, we caught up with Noelle Porcoro, Peeps senior brand manager, for some insight into this popular treat.

Q: How did Peeps get started?

A: Just Born Quality Confections acquired the Rodda Candy Company and the marshmallow chick line in 1953. At the time, the Rodda Candy Company was making the iconic marshmallow chicks by hand. The founder of Just Born, Sam Born, replaced the painstaking process of hand-forming the chicks with mass production.

Originally the process took more than 27 hours to perfect the chick by hand using a pastry tube, but today Peeps marshmallow chicks can be manufactured in six minutes. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the Peeps line started to expand and the Peeps Bunny was introduced.

Q: How many Peep variations are there now?

A: During Easter, we have more than 20 products sold at national retailers and more than 10 candies that are exclusive to specific retailers.

Peeps are not just for Easter; you can find these treats on shelves during Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and summer. Marshmallow chicks are more popular than bunnies, and yellow is more popular than pink.

Q: How do those other Peeps differ from Easter Peeps?

A: For Halloween, we roll out seasonal shapes such as marshmallow pumpkins and ghosts, but we also introduce our chicks in flavors like pumpkin spice, caramel apple and candy corn. During the holiday season, we produce different Peeps Marshmallow Chicks that are dipped in fudge. We have traditional flavors like Peeps Hot Cocoa and cream-flavored Marshmallow Chicks dipped in white fudge and more unique flavors like Peeps Red Velvet Chicks dipped in cream-flavored fudge.

Q: Peeps continue to be a cultural phenomenon. Does that surprise its makers?

A: Few products have achieved the iconic status of the yellow, chick-shaped marshmallow Peeps, beloved by children and adults alike. Peeps continues to be the No. 1 non-chocolate candy at Easter, and our brand has become nostalgic for consumers as we have been embedded into family traditions.

Q: Peeps are “fun food” for creating dioramas and decorations. How did that get started?

A: Peeps diorama contests have been popping up across the country for years. One of the most famous contests at The Washington Post is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

Q: What are some of the more outrageous things you’ve seen done with Peeps?

A: Peeps are often used in different science experiments. Fans try to figure out how they can sink a marshmallow, how to expand them in the microwave or mash them together! People also love to use Peeps in different Easter “minute games.” Some Easter celebrations include “bobbing” for Peeps, a Peeps toss or even bowling for Peeps.

Q: Do they have an expiration date?

A: It’s true that some people actually prefer their Peeps “pleasantly aged.” They say that the sugars have time to mature and the taste manifests itself in different ways.

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

Noelle Porcoro

Peeps senior brand manager

She keeps track of 2 billion Peeps.

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