Easter time for most means an eclectic mix of bunny ears, colored eggs, candy and crosses that don’t intuitively fit together as a holiday. However, for a few intrepid entrepreneurs over the last century, Easter has meant a huge opportunity for big business.
Here are some interesting stories on the sweet success of a few Easter entrepreneurs whose confections you’ve likely sampled from your own basket on Easter morning.
Chocolate Easter Bunnies: The combination of bunnies and Easter has been around since the Middle Ages. Likely, Christians of the time borrowed or adopted some of the pagan symbols of spring and the season of fertility, such as the rabbit and eggs, and voila, a strange hybrid was born. Chocolate Easter bunnies have been made for centuries, but the credit of mass production for public consumption goes to The Bortz Chocolate Company in Pennsylvania. Founded in 1916, the Bortz Company started producing standardized, chocolate-formed bunnies to capitalize on the popularity of Easter candy. However, it was around World War II, when automation was becoming commonplace, that the mass-market chocolate bunny business started booming and parents started buying the bunnies en masse for their children’s baskets.
The Bortz Company was already making standard chocolate bunnies, but they took this emerging craze even further when it started to give the chocolate bunnies personalities, making them more playful and collectable by children who would ask for their specific bunnies by name. By 1934 The Bortz Chocolate Company was offering children (or rather their parents) options such as the accordion-playing bunny and the car-driving bunny. Whatever the personality, chocolate bunnies were wildly popular with families and good business for The Bortz Chocolate Company. The family sold their confectionary business to a Canadian company, The Allan Company, in the early '90s, but the production of chocolate Easter bunnies carries on.
Peeps: Perhaps one of the most quintessential Easter treats, Peeps are a long-time staple of every child’s Easter basket. These crystallized sugar-coated marshmallow chicks were hatched by the confection company founded by Russian immigrant Sam Born. While the idea for Peeps didn’t come from Born himself, his son Bob is largely responsible for the sugary treat. In 1953, Sam Born’s company, Just Born, acquired the Rodda Candy Company. Along with the acquisition came its labor-intensive marshmallow products that would later become Peeps.
The original process brought to the Born Company by Rodda required workers to hand squeeze marshmallows through pastry bags to form and fill the shape molds. Bob Born saw an opportunity with Peeps when he joined the family business in 1946 and figured out a way to mechanize this time-consuming process to solidify Peeps as a mass-producible treat. Peeps are now made in a variety of offerings for holidays throughout the year, and no matter when you get your Peeps, they’ll always be made here in the U.S.A. by this family-owned company.
The Cadbury Crème Egg: John Cadbury began his confectionery shop in England in the 1824. He was creating all kinds of classic and experimental chocolate creations, when around 1875, the Cadbury shop decided to put out its own Cadbury-branded Easter egg for the candy-centric holiday. The original Cadbury “Easter” eggs were dark chocolate filled with sugared almonds instead of the crème. However, with advances in chocolate-making that included the ability to separate out cocoa butter from the cocoa bean, chocolate became a much more malleable art.
Able to press chocolate into molds to hollow out the middle, the Cadbury shop began experimenting with how the candy was decorated outside and what was put inside the chocolate shell. It wasn’t until 1923, long after John Cadbury’s death, however, that the first crème-filled egg was introduced to market. Perfecting the filling took time, but according to Cadbury, the Crème Egg we know and love today didn’t come to proper form until 1971. That, combined with the massively popular “clucking bunny” advertising campaign that began in 1982, turned the Cadbury Crème egg into an American favorite for Easter.