by: Geoff Ficke
In 1927 the Austrian inventor Eduard Haas introduced PEZ as an aid to curb smokers urges to engage in the unhealthy habit of smoking. Haas was an early anti-smoking crusader. Even in the early 20th century it was widely understood that smoking was a vile practice with potentially dire health consequences for users who engaged in the habit on a regular basis. Governments too, understood that smoking had dangerous long term effects on smokers health, and accordingly began to assess stiff excise taxes on sales of cigarettes.
PEZ were originally peppermint flavored. The word PEZ comes from the German word for peppermint. Mr. Haas believed that peppermint would energize the sense of taste and mute the smokers desire for smoking cigarettes as the flavor of burning tobacco smoke was believed to be unpleasant with peppermint in the body. For 25 years PEZ were sold in pharmacies in Europe and by today’s standards would be considered a modest commercial success.
The evolution of PEZ from an over the counter health aid to a candy took place before and during the World War II years. As much of Germany and the European continent lay in ruins Mr. Haas recognized that smoking was becoming more popular among many people. Smoking was one of the few relaxants readily available on the severely diminished retail marketplace of the time. Though an ardent evangelist opposed to smoking, Haas understood that his business would collapse unless he reinvented PEZ. The peppermint flavor of PEZ made the product an ideal candidate to be remarketed as a candy product.
In 1952 Eduard Haas began to export PEZ candy into the United States. Sales were initially very sluggish. American consumers did not respond to the strong, almost overwhelming peppermint flavor of PEZ candies. At this point Eduard Haas made a decision which provides an excellent teaching moment for entrepreneurs seeking to reposition their product.
Haas withdrew PEZ candy from the market, but he did not do so to close the brand down. He repackaged the candies, using new colors and fruit flavors that children especially enjoyed. The overpowering German peppermint was toned down significantly. Most importantly, the packaging of PEZ candies was reworked to possess the features of a child’s toy with cute animal heads that acted as a spring load delivery system to engage, and almost magically produce each piece of the candy. Children loved the interactivity of the packaging and the fruity treats that they delivered.
As a result of Eduard Haas reinvention of PEZ he created an iconic candy brand. The sales success and popularity of PEZ have continued unabated to this day. Very few consumers, even if they do not eat PEZ, fail to recognize PEZ when they see the cute little colored, animal inspired packages of the sweet.
Many inventors, entrepreneurs or small businesses hang their hats on a signature, “alpha” product. When or if sales lag they are flummoxed. What can be done to resurrect the brand? A new marketing strategy? New Branding? Redesigned packaging graphics? New distribution channels? These and other options must be considered. However, the Eduard Haas option, to reinvent the “alpha” product as a completely new item with fresh features and benefits is rarely considered. It should be.