For those who don’t know what PEZ candy are…
You would be hardpressed to find someone who has never heard of PEZ before. It’s even a candy that has been featured heavily in American TV and movies. ‘The PEZ Dispenser‘ is an episode of Seinfeld where a Tweety Bird PEZ dispenser proves to be a big distraction for Jerry and Elaine. In Stand By Me (the 1986 Rob Reiner film adapted from a Stephen King short story), a character admits that if he had to eat one food for the rest of his life it would be ‘cherry PEZ‘. He’s a much bigger fan of the candy itself than most.
For the most part, PEZ is known mainly because of their iconic ‘PEZ dispensers‘. The candy themselves are small, flavored chalk tabs that are loaded into dispensers all in a row. Then, moving the head of the dispenser causes a single tab to shoot out. It’s really not the candy itself that is particularly unique or amazing; it’s the novelty of the dispenser and how you experience the candy.
1. Pez were originally designed as anti-smoking aides.
PEZ was the idea of Austrian entrepreneur Eduard Haas III whose detest for smoking gave him an interesting idea for a product. Instead of smoking cigarettes, Haas wanted adults of the late 1940-50s to have a mint!
2. PEZ were originally called “pfefferminz”.
He created a mini mint tab and called them pfefferminz (the German word for peppermint). That eventually became PEZ, the first, middle, and last letters of pffefferminz – for simplicity’s sake. After experimenting with a mint tin (think Altoids) for a few years, in 1948 the original PEZ dispenser was created. It mimicked the look of a cigarette lighter with the hope that people would replace the habit of smoking with popping a mint instead.
‘Smoking prohibited – pezzing allowed‘ was adopted as its slogan and the rest is history.
Promoting its anti-smoking agenda (along with some pinup ladies) was enough to increase sales. So much so that eventually Haas was able to grow the business and introduce new flavors. Early on though it was always a “mint” flavor like cinnamon, eucalyptus, or lemon. However, the shift into fruit flavors eventually led to PEZ to a whole new market – children.
3. Popeye The Sailor Man was the first character on top of the Pez Dispenser.
Soon, PEZ began marketing to children specifically as a candy instead of a mint. And it wasn’t long before the company struck gold with their now iconic idea: adding the head on top of the dispenser. This essentially made PEZ a toy that just happened to dispense candy – a brilliant marketing maneuver that even grew the company into what we know it as today.
By licensing the heads, PEZ made another great decision. At this point, it is hard to say how many different heads have graced the top of the PEZ dispenser. In fact, you could argue you are not a really well-known character until you have (everyone from Scooby Doo to Darth Vader has one). Popeye the Sailor Man may have been the first topper, while some argue that it was Mickey Mouse himself.
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Either way, famous characters and cartoons alike continue to grace the top of dispensers today. They are sold in more than sixty countries worldwide and rare ones continue to fetch hundreds of dollars from collectors on the secondary market. It is truly one of the most famous candy brands out there – and it’s all because PEZ wanted people to stop smoking!
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