There aren’t many brands of candy as iconic as Pez, the small and often delicious rectangular candy that is loaded and then dispensed from a myriad of dispensers that increasingly feature some of the most famous brands known to man. Despite the fact that Pez seems as popular as ever, there’s not a lot that is widely known about the little candy that could. From its early history as a form of pseudo-medicine to its initial introduction to the United States and the massive one-eighty that introduction forced Pez to make in its marketing campaign, Pez is definitely the little candy that could. So prepare to savor the ten factoids dispensed by the BabbleTop fact dispenser and to delve into everything you ever wanted/needed to know about Pez.
10. The Name
Pez is a name that is as iconic as it is short. There are few candies that are as easily recognized or as well known as Pez. However, very few English speaking people actually know what the name Pez means, or rather, where it comes from. Pez was created in 1927 in the capital of Austria, Vienna, by Eduard Haas III. The first Pez was only one flavor, peppermint, but it most likely wasn’t the Peppermint we’re used to today as it was more of a compressed peppermint sweet. Although, you could buy some vintage Pez from before the Depression and test whether or not that’s true… If you also happen to have good health insurance. What does that have to do with the name, you ask? Well, in the German language the word for peppermint is PfeffErminZ, abbreviated as Pez! The name (and flavor) wasn’t the only thing that was different about that earlier version of Pez, as they also didn’t come in their now-famous dispensers. Rather, early Pez was encased in small hand-sized containers that were made of tin and were similar to modern Altoid cases. It wasn’t until over two decades later that they introduced their first dispenser.
9. The First Dispenser
People of all ages are familiar with the general shape and function of Pez dispensers these days, even if they’ve never actually used one. The candy is housed in a plastic stacking mechanism that has the Pez logo on each side, and atop that is typically the head of some well-known character, including some of the best-known characters in all of fiction as well as some famous people from across history. Once you tilt that head back, one delicious rectangle of flavor is dispensed and the rest is history until you have to reload the dispenser that is. However, as we just learned, that’s not how Pez was originally dispensed. Pez started in tin cases just like Altoids, then moved to cardboard cases during World War II (when basically all metal was scarce). It wasn’t until the 1950’s when the first “dispensers” were introduced and despite the fairly obvious name choice that we ended up with in DISPENSERS, they actually weren’t even referred to as Pez dispensers initially. Instead, they were referred to as “Regulars”. Those regulars were similar in shape and size to a cigarette lighter (with the only difference being the familiar Pez logo on each side of the regular, which makes complete sense for anyone who has used even a modern Pez dispenser and cigarette lighter as the motion you use to dispense Pez and light your cigarette are almost the exact same. That wasn’t a coincidence as the original Pez had a completely different target market and goal than the modern candy does. That brings us to our next entry…
8. Pez for (Only) Smokers?
When people close their eyes and think of Pez they think of things like delicious grape or strawberry or really any fruit (flavor) under the sun. As a candy that is mostly marketed to children (or (wo)man-children), which is obvious based on their flavor and the characters that typically reside at the top of modern Pez dispensers. However, as we just saw, the original Pez dispensers were called Regulars and while the story behind that name is an internet mystery, their original shape and size (which looked A LOT like a cigarette lighter) weren’t a coincidence. The original Peppermint Pez was marketed as a breath mint for adults, whereas there were also ‘Pez Drops’ that were round and that was also supposedly an alternative for those that smoked cigarettes (or ingested tobacco other ways). Some of us that are over the age of 30 will remember that chewing gum was similarly marketing in the United States for decades, with the logic being that a big part of smoking was the oral fixation and thus chewing gum will satisfy that urge (with the chewing motion also probably helping with the frustration that comes from not smoking for a while). The adult target market lead to an adult-oriented advertising campaigns, with pin-up girls being a part of a lot of Pez marketing campaigns at least until Pez reached the US post-WWII and the target market, flavors and dispensers/regulars all changing to cater towards children (which made tons of sense considering the post-war Baby Boom).
7. Pez Didn’t Cross the Pond Until 1953
When you grow up with a candy that is omnipresent and delicious as Pez you can’t really imagine a world in which kids grew up without all the options that we had as children (and only had things like black licorice or salted meats to bring them joy). So it may come as a surprise that Pez only came to the United States in the early-to-mid 1950s (1953 to be exact) as it seems like something as equally brilliant and old school as Pez should’ve at least been around for those fighting in World War II (and World War I, or any war, really). Another big surprise, Pez wasn’t immediately popular in the United States! The peppermint/mint market was oversaturated at that point as oral hygiene wasn’t as good as it is today and that initial failure, as failure often can be, provided the impetus that Pez needed to evolve into the mammoth company it is today. The Pez people decided that they had to diversify their offerings beyond just peppermint (or PfeffErminZ) and began to introduce the gamut of fruit flavors that we know today. The change was what the company needed and it was only a short time after that that they also replaced the heads on their “regulars” and started using different heads, like Micky Mouse, to help solidify the massive change the brand went through from one that appealed to adults/smokers and offered just mints to one that appealed to children (and everyone) and had a dispenser as important as the candy itself.
6. They still sell TONS of Pez
Across the history of industry, there are countless examples of something that was HUGE among one generation having trouble selling after that generation is replaced by new generations. Candy is no exception as a lot of candies that were popular decades ago are no longer household names (or even sold at all). A lot of that has to do with innovation and new types of candy being introduced all the time, which a lot of the time makes older candies obsolete (or in some cases, taste disgusting by comparison). Pez has seemingly bucked that trend thus far, which is probably due to the combination of their delicious taste and also the huge demand for new Pez dispensers generally but also as part of a huge collector market. Due to that consistent popularity, Pez is still available in 60 countries across the world (directly, with the internet allowing people in every country (outside of North Korea) to order their favorite candy and it’s plastic housing). That popularity remains true in the United States as well as there are over THREE BILLION Pez candies purchased each year. While that stat is often reported as three billion candies “consumed”, it’s safe to say a large amount of that candy is never consumed as it’s purchased by collectors who know the main cardinal sin in the collecting world is to open any collectible. The global total is over five billion candies (and 70 million dispensers)! Either way, that’s a ton of candy, literally, and proof of the enduring popularity of America’s favorite tiny, rectangular candies and their dispensers!
5. Making Pez is No Joke
Despite its Austrian origins, Pez the candy is actually created in the United States (in Orange, Connecticut to be precise). Don’t get us wrong, the actual dispensers (and some of the candy) are still made in Austria (as well as Slovenia and China), but the factories that make those dispensers are owned and operated by Pez which is headquartered in Connecticut. The president of Pez Candy is actually referred to as the “Pezident” and discussed just how one of the world’s favorite candies is manufactured there (even if he seemed initially regretful and pensive about sharing those secrets with the New York Times as he said that he had to be “very careful” about sharing too many secrets and that he “probably shouldn’t have talked” to anyone about how they make those delicious little rectangles of joy. The manufacturing process is a relatively complicated one, and in total each candy is subjected to over three thousand pounds of pressure! That’s a ton and a half of pressure per candy, but perhaps is the least important part of the process. The most important part? Sugar, of course! Over 50,000 POUNDS of granulated sugar is delivered to the Pez factory every four days (that’s over 300,000 lbs. in the shortest month of the year, February)! That sugar is then milled to create granulated sugar, which is the most important ingredient in the candy industry. That building block is then mixed with things like corn syrup, plant-based fats and other ingredients depending on the type of Pez and then pressed by machines that apply that 3,000 lbs to turn the candy mix into the candy we all love and recognize!
4. Collecting Mania!
As we’ve alluded to a couple of times in this video, a big part of Pez’s popularity and bottom-line is the large and active collecting community that snaps up everything Pez from the new dispensers to the original tin cases, “regulars” or advertisements both in English and it’s original German (especially the “Pez-Girl” pin-up ads back before the candy switched its market from heavy-smoking adults to children who like delicious candy (also known as ALL children)). Despite its popularity these days, people didn’t initially start collecting or even saving their Pez dispensers for a few DECADES. In fact, the first convention for Pez collectors (known as Pez-Heads) didn’t happen until 1991, a full four decades from when Pez was introduced in the United States and a full 60 years from the first iteration of Pez. That convention was for national PEZheads and was held on Saturday, June 15th, 1991, in Mentor, Ohio for some reason. While that was the first it definitely wasn’t the last, as collector conventions exploded across the country in the years since with the PEZmania convention growing during that time and becoming the largest convention of PEZheads in the world. The 29th PEZmania is a multi-day affair and is scheduled to run from Thursday, July 18th, 2019 to Saturday the 20th of July in Cleveland, Ohio (of course). It is billed as having “More PEZ than you have ever imagined” which when you think of who is in attendance, must be A LOT. That collector community can be broken down into groups and tiers as well, as the top collectors being called “Master” PEZ collectors. There are also PEZ dealers who make their living buying and selling valuable dispensers and also PEZ authors who write books specifically about the little candy that everyone loves (and some people clearly love a little too much?).
3. They Once had a Super Creepy Mascot
A recent study showed that more American’s fear Clowns than Climate Change and while we stay away from political issues here at BabbleTop, it’s safe to say that that reported future (and current) negatives from Climate Change are definitely worse than the worst case scenario when it comes to clowns (unless the plot from ‘It’ comes true). At worst, in reality, the worst possible thing that can happen with a clown is that they’ll give you some half-assed balloon animal or make you feel awkward at a parade. Being a clown these days is definitely worse than that as there is a ton of clown unemployment (clownemployment?) thanks to movies like It and that growing and objectively irrational fear about adults who paint their faces to attempt to bring joy to the world. Granted, there were all those people dressed as evil clowns appearing in the woods across the United States and Canada whose goals were never really discovered but were reported to be attempting to lure children into the woods. So, we take back everything we just said as clowns are terrifying and clearly plotting to take over the world. We bring this up as Pez used to actually have a mascot one that they rightly abandoned back in the 1980s after about two decades of service. His name was Pete Pez (clever?) and he was everywhere in Pez ads from around that time. One has to wonder whether or not those ads are as popular as the other ads (like the ‘Pez girls’ from and before the 1940s), as again, tons of people are afraid of clowns and so it’s hard to imagine someone having a giant clown ad hanging on any wall inside their home. The only positive is to think that a lot of those collectors live near the coast (based on how much of the US population falls on the East and West coasts as well as on the Gulf of Mexico) and that those Pete Pez ads will be under a few feet of seawater in a couple of decades thanks to the climate change issue that few seem to be worried about.
2. Pez and Ebay
One of the more popular and consistent items sold on the world’s largest auction site, eBay, is, in fact, Pez (and Pez dispensers, Pez Drops, Pez mint cases and Pez advertisements (except those super creepy Pete Pez ads from the 1970’s and 1980’s for reasons we just discussed). But the relationship between Pez and eBay is actually a lot deeper and as a viral story years ago claimed it was Pez itself that gave the founder of eBay Pierre Omidyar the catalyst to create a site where his fiance Pamela Wesley could trade and add to her Pez collection and addiction. While this has been widely reported after eBay’s marketing department reported that very thing, there is actually ZERO truth to the story that Pez is partially responsible for eBay’s initial success. It was reported (and supported by book’s like ‘The Perfect Store’ and credible newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker) that because his fiance wanted a place to buy and trade her wares Omidyar created the site AuctionWeb, which two years later became eBay. However, eBay’s third employee and first PR Manager Lou Song admitted way after the fact that the entire story was made up by his department to drum up interest in the fledgling auction site. Creation myths like this are actually super popular in the tech industry as everyone loves the idea of a company starting in a garage, for example, which is the story behind the largest company in the world Apple and it’s founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Song summed this up “logic” perfectly by stating “No one wants to hear about a 30-year old genius who wanted to create a perfect market” and while he’s right that’s sort of sad as it’d be really great if Pez was actually responsible for one of the most successful websites in the history of the internet. Either way, the good news is that the candy still tastes the same regardless and eBay is still eBay, so, either way, it’s a win for everyone.
1. Santa is the Best Selling Pez Dispenser of All-Time
While the initial news that Santa Claus is the best selling Pez dispenser of all-time might come as an initial surprise, it actually makes a lot of sense as it’s one of the few Pez dispensers that is released or re-released every year while a lot of dispenser heads come and go as marketing trends change, meanwhile the Santa Pez Dispenser remains a very popular stocking stuffer in multiple countries (which is sort of ironic as the modern look of Santa is actually the marketing creation of another omni-present company in Coca Cola). While Santa is the most popular dispenser it is by no means the most collectible (obviously, as rarity and collectability go hand in hand). One of the most expensive Pez dispenser is a 50’s era dispenser that has a transparent space gun instead of the traditional head. That dispenser has sold for over $11,000 but that is by no means the holy grail of Pez dispenser collectables or prices. That honor goes to the Mr. Potato head Pez dispener that was marketed as the “Make a Face” Mr. Potato head and came with attachable face pieces. What makes it so valuable (when intact) and rare is that it came with multiple pieces that could easily be lost especially due to their size. It was that size that actually lead to it’s collectibility as the dispenser was quickly pulled from shelves after it was realized that children could easily choke on the pieces. The Tallest Pez dispenser is one that you might be able to guess as it belongs to ‘The Simpsons’ matriach, Marge Simpson, who is as famous for her tall hair as she is for her raspy voice. That dispenser clocks in at over five inches tall which is a decent size larger than the average dispenser. While Santa has sold the most he might not be the most “popular”, as PEZheads debate whether he is the most popular or whether the Mickey Mouse PEZ dispenser is the most popular. It seems Micky is always caught up in debates as it’s also debated whether or not he was the first PEZ dispenser head or if that honor falls to cartoon legend and definite stroke victim(you might want to remove the stroke joke, I couldn’t help it), Popeye the sailor man. While the answer to that question may never be answered it’s safe to say that PEZ will be with us forever and that’s really all that matters.