There is a scene in the 1986 movie Stand By Me when the four boys are sitting around a campfire and Vern says, “If I could only have one food for the rest of my life? That’s easy—Pez. Cherry flavored Pez. No question about it.” Great movie and also a great line, but as far as having one food for the rest of my life, even as a kid I might have put Pez at the bottom of the list. I sort of remember when Pez first made a splash, and like every other kid on the block I had a Pez dispenser with its load of twelve sugar tablets, but it wasn’t anything that lasted, mainly because the candy was nothing special and the novelty of its dispenser quickly wore off. Judging from ongoing popularity of the whole Pez phenomenon I was clearly in the minority.
Pez was the idea of an Austrian entrepreneur in 1927. The Haas Candy Company in Vienna was a food production company owned by Eduard Haas III who had a dislike for smoking and thought he had an alternative. His idea was that adults would enjoy chewing a mint candy as a substitute and so give up cigarettes. Novelty has always played a huge part in the success of Pez, and the candy’s debut was no different. To make his mint candy Haas had to use peppermint oil, an expensive commodity in those days, but a peppermint flavored candy tablet was a novelty that became very popular. Naming the peppermint candy started with pfefferminz, the German word for peppermint. Haas took the first, last and middle letters and made PEZ, creating a trademark. At first, he packaged the mints in small, tin containers resembling the modern day Altoids tin. It wasn’t until 1948 that the first dispensers for the mint candy were invented. It was invented by Oscar Uxa and had a shape similar to a cigarette lighter, a shape meant to evoke the candy’s original purpose as an alternative to smoking.
Sales of the Pez peppermint candy were successful enough to encourage Haas to make other flavors and create an entire line. By American standards the flavors chosen were unusual, but the American market was still in the future. Haas geared his new flavors for Europeans and made Pez in seven new flavors: anise, chlorophyll, chocolate, cinnamon, coffee, eucalyptus-menthol, flower, and a pungent licorice called salmiak. In 1953 the company began targeting sales to children with fruit flavors like strawberry orange, lemon, lime and cherry.
That same year Haas opened a branch of his company in the US, selling only four imported flavors: peppermint, chlorophyll mint, lemon and cherry, each coming with a plain head pocket dispenser. It wasn’t until several years later that the company began making the dispensers with familiar character heads designed to look like a toy that would appeal to children. 1974 saw the first Pez production plant in the US. The European flavors didn’t alway appeal to American children and in one case cherry was replaced with grape. In 2002 the new Pez Sourz were released—sour blue raspberry, sour green apple, sour watermelon, and sour pineapple; in 2004 cola flavored pez became available in the US, and now some flavors are also available in sugar free and kosher varieties.
A few bits of trivia about Pez…
There are twelve pieces in a regular size package of Pez.
Pez dispensers are sold in more than sixty countries worldwide.
Today, the original Pez dispensers are selling at prices around $100 each.
Pez-minis are found inside small eggs sold in Japanese vending machines.
It takes 3,000 pounds of pressure to compress the sugar in a single Pez tablet.
The packaging of Pez candy shows the trademark name PEZ built out of forty-four Pez tablets—fourteen in the letter P, and fifteen in both the E and the Z.