Trivia 027: Dispensing sweet trivia

When I was a kid, I loved candy. Who didn’t? Whenever I went to the store with my parents, the question “Can we get some candy?” would never be far from my mind. The answer was usually “No”, but sometimes we’d get lucky. But not all candy was created equal. Some candies were ones we’d get frequently, but others were rarities. For example, Starbursts, Skittles, and Jolly Ranchers were pretty common. But some, like Nerd Ropes and Push Pops were not ones our parents would usually get. I think this was mostly because those candies were much more expensive, for something that took less time to eat.

One particular candy we very rarely got were Pez. Of course, these are some of the worst candies for their cost per time spent enjoying. First of all, they are more expensive than other candies because you are typically also buying a Pez dispenser to go with it. And the candies themselves are small, chewable tablets, which do not take very long to eat. However, Pez’s business strategy is working out well for the, as they make over $25 million per year.

However, Pez certainly did not start out very big. The company itself got its start making breath mints in 1927 in Austria. These “pfefferminz” – German for “peppermint” – are where the company’s name comes from. They were designed to be an alternative to smoking – instead of lighting up a cigarette, you could have a Pez instead. In 1949, Pez created their iconic dispenser, as a way to take out a single tablet with one hand, without dirtying the others. In the 1950’s, waning interest in smoking alternatives caused Pez to pivot to candy manufacturing.

Today, the Pez Dispenser is perhaps even more recognizable than the candy. The first character-shaped dispensers were released in 1955. These featured full-body designs, rather than just heads. They even sold one shaped like a ray gun, which shot the tablets out the front. However, the manufacturing complexity of these dispensers dramatically increased the cost. So Pez ultimately decided on the design we know today, with just the top being a character’s head. There are now over 550 unique character heads, with thousands of different variations.

Some of these dispensers, especially the rarer ones, can be worth thousands of dollars. There is a Pez visitor center in Connecticut. They even created a board game in 2000 based around filling up Pez containers. They have certainly come a long way from their humble beginnings.

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