Easter is right around the corner and baskets will be filled with those timeless marshmallow chicks known as PEEPS. The company behind them, is ironically called Just Born (named for founder Sam Born).
What you probably don’t know is that Just Born has always been a manufacturing pioneer, cutting production time down from 27 hours to six minutes back in 1954 by automating its operations. Automation lowers production costs and leads to product consistency and quality. It can even create new jobs, contrary to the “robots are coming” fear-mongering you may have heard lately.
Matt Pye, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Just Born, shared with me the history of Peeps. Many of their innovations and lessons learned can be the key to product and company longevity. I’ve broken it down into five principles, which can apply to many different types of businesses — beyond fluffy edible baby animals.
Marshmallow treats need special handling and human error can lead to inconsistencies in quality. So now robots pack cases on pallets, pick up PEEPS Bunnies and place them in trays. Just Born recently partnered with JLS to utilize product grippers from Soft Robotics on a packaging system instead of vacuum suction. In addition to speeding-up production and lowering costs, these “soft robots” enabled Just Born to develop new products like PEEPS Delights (which are chicks dipped in and/or filled with chocolate).
2. Fan-inspired Marketing.
PEEPS have become a social media sensation. With close to 40 million Instagram followers and thousands of inspirational ideas on Pinterest, the company inspires PEEPS fans to build their own creations, which included a six-foot sculpture. Looking to your fans to promote and build on your brand is essential is today’s digital and crowd sourced world.
3. Creative Seasonal and Product Line Extensions.
If you have a successful product, don’t mess with the recipe, but build on it. With marshmallow at its core, the company has introduced seasonal (Halloween, Valentines Day and Christmas) products, as well as partnerships with Oreos on PEEPS cookies and Penguin Random House publishing on a line of books and a PEEPS-themed alternative to “Elf on a Shelf” called PEEP On A Perch.
4. Willingness to Experiment and Act Quickly When Something Doesn’t Work.
Every long-tenured business will admit to making a bad call or two. Because the brand evokes nostalgia, in 2015 Just Born re-released its white chicks, which were first sold in 1954. They learned that new consumers preferred bright colors and stopped production on the “retro chicks” in 2017.
5. Continuity and Respect for Experience.
As you introduce the new, you don’t have to give up on history. Still a privately-held company, Just Born is a family-owned business and many of its leaders have celebrated anniversaries with the company as long as 40 years
PEEPS remains the #1 non-chocolate candy brand at Easter (a title it has held for more than 20 years) and is now planning to leverage the second biggest holiday for the brand, which is Christmas.
Turning a seasonal treat into a cult classic that has survived six decades took a unique combination of human creativity and commitment and robotic mastery.