The Amazing Story of the PEZ Brand and its American Launch Pivot

Who doesn’t like those tiny, fruity PEZ bricks? And who doesn’t like PEZ dispensers? From Baby Yoda to Marilyn Monroe, there’s a dispenser for everyone.

This fantastic article from Smithsonian Magazine does a wonderful job of outlining the history of PEZ, the global candy phenomenon which has become a cultural touchstone for baby boomers everywhere. Trading PEZ dispensers was also cited as the raison d’être behind the founding of eBay, although according to Wikipedia:

The frequently repeated story that eBay was founded to help Omidyar‘s fiancée trade Pez candy dispensers was fabricated in 1997 by public relations manager Mary Lou Song to give the media a human-interest story more appealing than Omidyar’s original vision of a “perfect market.”

(But… I like the eBay story, anyway.)

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Inventor Eduard Haas III wanted to create a tablet that would help curb smoking and overeating. (From the archive of PEZ Candy, Inc.)

Three key takeaways as you read this article:

  1. PEZ are fundamentally based on product innovation: All great products start with a unique product idea. Typically, candies are cooked or boiled, losing much of their flavor in the process. In the case of PEZ, they use thousands of pounds of force to compress confectioners sugar and flavoring into those iconic, little bricks. No boiling meant that the PEZ company could more efficiently use its original — and expensive — peppermint ingredient, which boiled off in the traditional candy-making process. The early success of PEZ was a direct result of innovation.

2. Great branding stands the test of time: The PEZ logo hasn’t changed since the1930s! ’nuff said.

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Two young women distribute PEZ candy in a movie theater in 1964. (Votava/Imagno/Getty Images)

3. When you have to pivot, pivot. PEZ were invented to “not only refresh one’s breath,” but to help consumers cut down on smoking or overeating.” This worked quite well in Europe. However, when PEZ launched in the U.S. in 1952, they found that Americans just weren’t that inclined to quit smoking in the first place. I mean, if the Rat Pack smoked, how bad could it really be? The lackluster sales meant that PEZ needed to pivot, and pivot fast.

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The first PEZ dispensers had full-body designs, with a full red suit for Santa Claus. (From the archive of PEZ Candy, Inc.)

So they changed the flavor from minty to fruity, added character heads to the dispensers, and began marketing to kids. It worked, and the rest is history.

Today, approximately 1,400 character heads later, the popularity of PEZ continues to grow. Placed end to end, the 5 billion little PEZ bricks sold last year would circle the globe. Twice.

It’s a “testamint” to the power of innovation, creativity, and branding.