- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2003

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Marshmallow Peeps, a must-have in many children's Easter baskets, are something of a mass-produced technological wonder, having evolved from handmade confections. And the chick-shaped candies have grown into an icon of kitsch on the Internet and an inspiration for artists.
They are also a big moneymaker for a privately held company called Just Born Inc., which got into the Peeps business in 1953, when it acquired Rodda Candy Co. Rodda turned out a small line of sugary chicks produced by about 80 women who painstakingly squeezed marshmallow out of pastry tubes.
Just Born began working on a way to make the investment more profitable, and a year later, Bob Born, son of founder Sam Born, found a way to mechanize the hand motion to make Peeps.
Now, they stream along a sugarcoated conveyor belt at a rate of as many as 4.2 million a day in yellow, pink, lavender, blue and white.
"There was a lot of trial and error," said Bob Born, who retired 10 years ago. "We made so many samples, at first some of them coming down the line looked like seals. So we had to try again."
When Just Born started making the candy, it took 27 hours to make a Peep; today it takes six minutes.
Mass production has helped make them one of the most popular candies at Easter.
"That's why we're here today after all these years," said Just Born Co-President David N. Shaffer.
Just Born came to Bethlehem from New York in 1932, moved by Sam Born. The company started out as a chocolate maker, but by the 1960s, Just Born left that business and decided to focus on Peeps and other sweets.
The company also makes Mike and Ike, Hot Tamales, Zours and Teeny Beanee jelly beans. Just Born is also acquiring Goldenberg Candy Co., a Philadelphia company that has been making peanut chews since 1890.
Chicks, the original Peeps, are the product that wins the most attention, although Just Born has Peeps for holidays year-round, including candies shaped into Valentine hearts and Halloween ghosts.
Their biggest draw is probably nostalgia. Parents who ate them as children buy them for their own children.
The chicks also have a following from people who like them for assorted other reasons there are even several tongue-in-cheek Web sites for the faithful. At www.peepsshow.com is a gallery of Peeps art.
Not everyone loves Peeps. There are plenty of people who don't like them or have outgrown the taste.
Still, some people who don't eat Peeps have a soft spot for them. Philadelphia Web designer Tracy Bannett doesn't eat Peeps (she's vegetarian and the critters contain gelatin, which is made of marrow), but she loves them just the same and shows them on her 6-year-old Peeps homage, www.marshmallowpeeps.org.
"They're kitschy and they're cool. … Peeps have a power," she said. "Some people get it and some people just don't."
Artist David Ottogalli, who recently created an 8-foot-tall altar of more than 5,000 Peeps, calls them a "fascinating little food product."
"The shape, the color, the texture. They're just so cute," he said. "Really, it's the Peep itself that's the work of art."

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