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Associated Press photos
Gail Counterman adjusts a Peeps box as it moves through the manufacturing process. A quirky new ad capitalizes on the confection’s place in pop culture.

As Peeps age, candy lovers grow fonder

Roger Hildebeitel inspects Peeps at the Just Born candy factory in Bethlehem, Pa. The Easter treat is 60 years old.

– It’s Easter morning. A boy rouses his younger brother, and they run to the living room to find their baskets filled with – what else? – Peeps.

“Peeps are THE candy of Easter,” the excited boy tells his wide-eyed sibling, who pops a yellow marshmallow chick in his mouth.

“You can eat ’em, smash ’em, microwave ’em, deep-fry ’em, roast ’em on a stick,” the boy explains. That’s not all. You can make “historically accurate Peeps dioramas ... Peeps pop art ... You can make a Peeps topiary.” On he goes, all day and night. “Peeps jousting ... hide-and-go Peeps ... Peepshi ... that’s sushi made out of Peeps.”

As the storied candy brand celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, Peeps’ first TV ad in a decade captures an essential truth about the spongy confection made of sugar, corn syrup and gelatin: Love them or hate them, people do all sorts of things with Peeps.

And they’re not shy about sharing.

“Everyone seems to have a Peeps story,” says Ross Born, third-generation operator of Just Born Inc., which hatches 5 million Peeps a day at its plant 60 miles north of Philadelphia.

Just Born calls it the “Peepsonality” of consumers who buy Peeps not only to eat but also to play around with.

“If you had asked me about this 25 years ago, I would have been rather bewildered about the whole thing,” Born confesses. “We were candy makers.”

Not that he’s complaining. Just Born had its best year financially in 2012.

Long associated with Easter, Peeps have penetrated the pop-culture consciousness in a way that other candy brands have not.

Aficionados send chicks into battle in a microwave “sport” known as Peeps jousting. They enter Peeps art contests, dozens of which are held around the country this time of year. They innovate recipes like “Peepza,” a desert pizza. They write cheeky blog entries with titles like “101 Fun Ways to Torture a Peep.”

Hoping to capitalize, Just Born recently opened three Peeps & Company retail stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Minnesota.

While the company churns out more than 1 billion Peeps this Easter season – a record – it sees the 60th anniversary as another marketing opportunity and a chance to connect with its fans via social media.

In addition to the TV ad campaign, it’s promoting a Facebook survey that asks knowing questions like this one: Do you like your Peeps fresh, frozen, or “aged to perfection”?

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