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How does a 67 year old seasonal brand like PEEPS® expand its target and not alienate its core consumers?


Matt Pye

Happy Easter everyone! It’s just not Easter without PEEPS®! The PEEPS® Brand has been around since 1953 and is a must-have for the Easter basket. The yellow chick is the icon that everyone knows however, the classic pastel-colored marshmallows covered in sugar are certainly polarizing. Consumers either love them or hate them. If they love PEEPS®, don’t mess with them. If they hate PEEPS®, there is no way they would ever eat any PEEPS® product. How does a brand stay true to its heritage while evolving to appeal to a larger audience? In this podcast, we will learn how brands can grow through innovation with their core consumers while attracting new users to the franchise.

Nate Pieratt: Who's the key target for Peeps?

Matt Pye: The primary purchaser of Peeps are women who have kid or grandkids, and then obviously once it gets into the home, everybody of all ages loves Peeps. When you think about those women with kids who are doing the primary purchasing, they break up into five groups when it comes to Easter candy. There's the Easter as tradition group, that probably represents about 22% of all the Easter buyers out there. These are loyalists. They have their baskets and there's no doubt they're purchasing Peeps candy. Then there's that crowd that's Easter is enjoyable. That's probably another 26% of the Easter buyers out there, but they like a wide variety and different things in their Easter baskets. The next group is the Easter is candy group. There's a lot of other categories and products that have crept into the Easter basket, but these folks, they represent a small percentage, about 6% of all Easter buyers, but ironically, they represent about 26% of all the purchases. They've very influential. It's all about candy, they only want candy, and it's a core candy group. And then there are the Easter is on my to-do list, it's more of a have to and not a want to. They understand, they've got kids, it's Easter, "I've got to go buy some candy." And that's about 25% of the Easter buyers. Lastly, there's Easter is beside the point. Candy's not a real big deal, Easter's not a real big deal, but maybe it's more impulse. They'll see Easter candy, they'll buy a few things. There's no doubts that between the Easter is tradition, Easter is enjoyable, and Easter is candy, these three of those five groups are really the most important, and between those three groups, they represent over 70% of the sale.

NP: What's kind of driving the passion behind the Peeps brand? 

marcom today

MP: First and foremost, it's nostalgic, it's a tradition. Many core Peeps consumers grew up with Peeps in their Easter basket, it's something that was there every Easter, and then obviously, as consumers get older and they want to celebrate with their own families, they've kept that tradition. I think at the same time people have come to love and know the brand and that passion then really speaks to, we like to say how consumers express their Peeps-onality in so many different ways. People do all sorts of weird things with them, putting them in the microwave is an activity called Peeps Jousting where you put two Peeps in, you stick a toothpick in it, you blow ... Turn on the microwave, they start to blow up a little bit. The first one to pop the other is the winner. You've got people using Peeps in recipes, they're using them as decoration and not even eating them. I think just because they're quirky little birds, they've got two eyes. They're just really so magical, and for whatever reason, people are doing all sorts of things with them. I mean, I've had focus groups where I've talked to moms where Easter is bigger than Christmas. They have an Easter tree adorned with Peeps. They buy enough Peeps not only for the basket, but they create a trail of Peeps from their kids' bedrooms all the way down to their Easter baskets. For them, Easter and Peeps are synonymous and again, we're just fortunate. I can't think of any other candy let alone Easter candy, but candy in general, when I tell people I work for Peeps, they've got to tell me a story about how they eat it, how they pop a hole in the package, they put it in the freezer, what they do with it. I mean, it's pretty amazing, and that really speaks to that passion that's been growing and continues to grow, particularly at Easter time.

NP: How are you gaining insight on what the customers are doing with the product and then maybe leveraging that in your marketing?

MP: We leverage market research and market insights as much as we can, whether it is qualitative, like focus groups, quantitative, about surveys, or working with different companies on IRI as an example, finding a little bit more about the panel and households, how many are eating Peeps and what they're doing with them. All of that really goes into how we move forward and really how we're going to grow the brand, not only with the core consumer, but really understanding that overall Easter consumer and how can we win over those folks who maybe are not inclined to really enjoy Peeps because there's no doubt Peeps are very polarizing when it comes to consuming them. Everybody knows them and loves them, but when it comes to actually consuming them, there's a passionate following that say, "Oh, I love Peeps. I love the texture." But then of course on the other spectrum there's a lot of people that they just don't like it, they don't like the grittiness of the sugar or they're just not marshmallow fans. What we try to do is to be able to see the market and build that core following, but at the same time trying to appeal to that consumer who is not necessarily buying Peeps or putting them in their basket.

NP: What kind of innovation have you applied to grow with your current customer base?

MP: A lot of times when people think innovation, they think brand new products and that you've got to spend lots of money. But there are many things particularly in the candy industry, just between flavors, colors, and even packaging, which are very innovative. With the current consumer, let's face it. When they like something, you think about anything you do like, don't mess with it, right? Keep it exactly the same. Where we've been able to innovate with our current consumers is through an expansion of colors. When Peeps first launched, they were only available in three colors. It was yellow, white, and pink, and obviously we've expanded to include blue, lavender, we've had green and even orange Peeps at one time between the chicks and the bunnies, and quite honestly, it's also been those same loyalist consumers at Easter that have written to us, that have emailed us and said, "Why aren't you doing something at the other seasons?" So that's allowed us to expand to the other core seasons, including Halloween, we have pumpkins and ghosts, Christmastime, where we have trees and snowmen, and then even hearts at Valentine's Day. Some other ways that we've innovated is taking that same product, just packaging it a little differently, and there's actually two products that come to mind. Most times when you buy a pack of Peeps, it's one particular color and it tends to be in quantities of five. A few years ago, we developed a Peeps Pop where we just took four individual Peeps and four different colors, just put them on a stick and then wrapped it up, it's great for the Easter basket, real convenient to eat. It's still your pure Peeps product, but now you've got some variety, you've got some convenience, and that's turned out to be probably our second best-selling item after the yellow chicks. Another item we launched this year exclusively for Walmart was the Peeps Egg Hunt. It's a smaller chick individually wrapped in plastic in a stand-up bag, and it's sold in that section that consumers can buy these loose Peeps that are individually wrapped and put them in plastic eggs that a lot of families save them from year to year and have egg hunts. Also, about 10 years ago, we started playing with chocolate and started taking our marshmallow Peeps and dipping them in chocolate, and then we also have totally enrobed chocolate covered marshmallow. That really has brought in a whole new user into the franchise. Flavors have been even another area of huge growth for us. We have so many flavors, it's hard to keep count of. There are cotton candy flavored chicks, root beer float flavored chicks, party cake, sour watermelon, blue raspberry, pancake and syrup, and we've actually just launched Hot Tamales cinnamon candy flavored chicks. 

Want to subscribe to our podcast and to hear more from industry professionals? Check us out on Spotify, PodBean, iTunes, and on our Marketing Communications Today podcast. Join us Thursday, April 16  at 1 p.m. to hear from  Sweta Chakraborty .

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