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10 Indispensable Facts about PEZ

PEZ hit the height of its American popularity in the '80s and '90s, but this dispensable candy is much older than that. These small, sugar candies have a longer history than you might know.

1. PEZ WERE ORIGINALLY ANTI-SMOKING MINTS.

Austrian inventor and businessman Eduard Haas III came up with the idea for PEZ in 1927. Haas came from a wealthy family of doctors and retailers, and as an anti-smoking advocate, he decided the small mints could help those trying to kick cigarettes. The 30-year-old Haas hired a chemist to perfect a cold-press process that would quickly and cheaply compress peppermint oil and sugar into peppermints. As for the now recognizable name, the mints were named for the German spelling of peppermint—"pfefferminz"—nabbing three letters to make PEZ.

2. THE FIRST PEZ WERE ROUND.

It took some time for Haas to figure out the best way to produce and package his PEZ mints. The first versions were called PEZ Drops, and were round candies wrapped in rolls. But, Haas soon determined that packaging the round candies was a pain, so he and his chemist partner sought out a new shape: the rectangular PEZ. The new shape was easy for machines to wrap, and helped keep PEZ production inexpensive. By the 1930s, PEZ appeared in metal tins that could easily be tucked into coat pockets or purses. Actual dispensers for Haas’ cessation mint wouldn’t be seen until after World War II.

3. VINTAGE PEZ ADS WERE RACY.

Because PEZ was originally intended to help adult smokers kick the habit, its advertisements targeted an older demographic. And to do that, they featured bosomy pinup girls hawking mints. At the same time, PEZ were marketed as an edible for the elite, called "the mint of the noble society," and as an anti-smoking tool ("Smoking prohibited—PEZing allowed!"). By the time PEZ made their way to the United States in the 1950s, the pinup ads were dropped for more child-friendly marketing.

4. AN EASY-TO-USE DISPENSER WAS A BIG COMPANY GOAL.

By the 1940s, Haas came up with a new idea for PEZ sales: a mint dispenser. The confectioner turned to inventor Oscar Uxa, and by 1948, the first PEZ dispenser was created. Uxa’s design, called a Box Regular, was shaped like a lighter as part of Haas’ anti-smoking theme, and utilized springs to push mints out. Its flip-top could be opened with one hand, which was important to Haas; the original patent stated that the one-hand opening was “important not only for persons having only one hand but also persons who often have only one hand free (for example motor-vehicle drivers), or whose occupation causes their hands to become smeared with dirt.”

5. PEZ DIDN'T APPEAR IN THE U.S. UNTIL THE 1950S.

In 1953, PEZ took a chance in American markets, though it initially didn’t find much interest. The peppermint flavor didn’t stand out, pushing Haas Food Manufacturing to rethink its mint. PEZ tablets were retooled with fruit flavors and new packaging to appeal to an entirely different audience: children.

6. DISPENSERS FOR KIDS BECAME A BIG HIT.

As part of PEZ marketing in the U.S., Haas realized that making the candy dispensers into toys could boost sales. The first child-oriented dispensers came in three shapes: a full-bodied Santa Claus, a full-bodied robot and a space gun (which shot candy out of the muzzle). In 1962, PEZ entered a new level of dispenser marketing by pairing with Walt Disney Studios. Even with fierce competition from Mickey Mouse, PEZ’s Santa dispenser (released in 1955) remains a top-selling dispenser. Because of the toy and candy combination, PEZ is considered the first interactive candy, and has more than 1500 different dispensers.

7. MAKING PEZ IS A HIGH-PRESSURE JOB.

That’s because the raw ingredients in PEZ candy undergo 3000 pounds of pressure to become the tiny tablets. Every package of PEZ has only 12 candies, which explains why they seems to disappear so quickly. PEZ dispensers are made in China, Slovenia and Austria, then shipped to the world’s only PEZ candy factory in Orange, Conn. There, candy and toy dispensers are paired up and packaged.

8. EVER WANTED TO TASTE PLANT-FLAVORED PEZ?

At one point in time, it was possible, because PEZ offered chlorophyll-flavored candies. Other specialty PEZ flavors have included licorice, coffee, cola and pineapple. And peppermint PEZ has also made a comeback. Since PEZ is sold in 60 countries, flavors can vary; popular peach isn’t available in the U.S.

9. REAL PEOPLE HAVE BECOME PEZ DISPENSERS.

PEZ often features fictional characters and animals on its dispensers, which has led to the belief that real people can’t appear on the collectible dispensers. Not true! Contrary to popular belief, several real-life people have graced the tops of PEZ poppers. In 1976, Betsy Ross, Paul Revere and Daniel Boone were on Bicentennial Commemorative PEZ dispensers; several U.S. presidents have been featured, as well as the members of KISS. Still, the selection of real people PEZ dispensers isn’t large because the company is selective; recent requests for Kim Kardashian and personalized dispensers just aren’t happening.

10. PEZ COLLECTION MANIA DIDN'T START UNTIL THE 1990s.

While PEZ were popular among Baby Boomer children and '80s kids, it wasn’t until the 1990s that dispenser collecting became big business. PEZheads (the self-proclaimed title for PEZ collectors) created a collecting frenzy where prices for vintage dispensers skyrocketed. During the PEZ rush in 1994, dealer John Devlin said that PEZ prior to the '90s were traded like baseball cards instead of being sold. “People used to say, ‘I’ll give you two dispensers for your one.’” Vintage PEZ dispenser prices skyrocketed, and some collectors even created counterfeits to cash in on the trend. Who knew a small mint meant for smokers could become a national craze?

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13 Secrets of Halloween Costume Designers
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iStock

For consumers, Halloween may be all about scares, but for businesses, it’s all about profits. According to the National Retail Federation, consumers will spend $9.1 billion this year on spooky goods, including a record $3.4 billion on costumes. “It’s an opportunity to be something you’re not the other 364 days of the year,” Jonathan Weeks, CEO of Costumeish.com, tells Mental Floss. “It feels like anything goes.”

To get a better sense of what goes into those lurid, funny, and occasionally outrageous disguises, we spoke to a number of designers who are constantly trying to react to an evolving seasonal market. Here’s what we learned about what sells, what doesn’t, and why adding a “sexy” adjective to a costume doesn’t always work.

1. SOME COSTUMES ARE JUST TOO OUTRAGEOUS FOR RETAIL

A woman models a scary nun costume for Halloween
iStock

For kids, Halloween is a time to look adorable in exchange for candy. For adults, it’s a time to push the envelope. Sometimes that means provocative, revealing costumes; other times, it means going for shock value. “You get looks at a party dressed as an Ebola worker,” Weeks says. “We have pregnant nun costumes, baby cigarette costumes.” The catch: You won’t be finding these at Walmart. “They’re meant for online, not Spencer’s or Party City.”

2. … BUT THERE ARE SOME LINES THEY WON’T CROSS.

Homeowners are scared by trick-or-treaters on Halloween
iStock

Although Halloween is the one day of the year people can deploy a dark sense of humor without inviting personal or professional disaster, some costume makers draw their own line when it comes to how far to exceed the boundaries of good taste. “We’ve never done a child pimp costume, but someone else has,” says Robert Berman, co-founder of Rasta Imposta, a business that broke into the industry on the strength of their fake dreadlock wig in 1992. Weeks says some questionable ideas that have been brought to the discussion table have stayed there. “There’s no toddler KKK costume or baby Nazi costume,” he says. “There is a line.”

3. THEY CAN DESIGN AND PRODUCE A COSTUME IN A MATTER OF DAYS.

A man models a costume in front of a mirror
Rob Stothard/Getty Images

A lot of costume interest comes from what’s been making headlines in the fall: Costumers have to be ready to meet that demand. “We’re pretty good at being able to react quickly,” says Pilar Quintana, vice-president of merchandising for Yandy.com. “Something happening in April may not be strong enough to stick around for Halloween.”

Because the mail-order site has in-house models and isn’t beholden to approval from big box vendors, Quintana can design and photograph a costume so it’s available within 72 hours. If it's more elaborate, it can take a little longer: Both Yandy and Weeks had costumes inspired by the Cecil the Lion story that broke in July 2015 (in which a trophy hunter from Minnesota killed an African lion) on their sites in a matter of weeks.

4. BEYONCE CAN HELP MOVE STALE INVENTORY.

A screen shot from Formation, a music video featuring Beyonce
beyonceVEVO, YouTube

Extravagant custom tailoring jobs aside, Halloween costumes are a business of instant demand and instant gratification—inventory needs to be plentiful in order to fill the deluge of orders that come in a short frame of time. If a business miscalculates the popularity of a given theme, they might be stuck with overstock until they can find a better idea to hang on it. “Last year, we had 400 or 500 Zorro costumes that we couldn’t sell for $10,” Weeks says. “It had a big black hat that came with it, and I thought, ‘That looks familiar.’ It turned out it looked a lot like the one Beyonce wore in her ‘Lemonade’ video.” Remarketed as a "Formation" hat for Beyonce cosplayers, Weeks moved his stock.

5. WOMEN DON’T USUALLY WEAR MASKS.

A man tries on a Joker mask at a retail store
Rhona Wise/Getty Images

Curiously, there’s a large gender gap when it comes to the sculpted latex monster masks offered by Halloween vendors: They’re sold almost exclusively to men. “There just aren’t a lot of masks with female characters,” Weeks says. “I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because men in general like gory, scary costumes.” One exception: Hillary Clinton masks, which were all the rage last year.

6. FOOD COSTUMES ARE ALWAYS A HIT.

A dog wears a hot dog costume for Halloween
iStock

At Rasta Imposta, Berman says political and pop culture trends can shift their plans, but one theme is a constant: People love to dress up as food. “We’ve had big success with food items. Bananas, pickles. We did an avocado.” Demand for these faux-edible costumes can occasionally get ugly: Rasta is currently suing Sears and Kmart for selling a banana costume that they allege infringes on Rasta’s copyrighted version, which has blackened ends and a vertical stripe.

7. ADDING ”SEXY” TO EVERYTHING DOESN’T ALWAYS WORK.

A packaged Halloween costume hangs on a store rack
Saul Loeb/Getty Images

It’s a recurring joke that some costume makers only need to add a “sexy” adjective to a design concept in order to make it marketable. While there’s some truth to that—Quintana references Yandy’s “sexy poop emoji” costume—it’s no guarantee of success. “We had a concept for ‘sexy cheese’ that was a no-go,” she says. “'Sexy corn’ didn’t really work at all. ‘Sexy anti-fascist’ didn’t make the cut this year.”

8. PEOPLE ASK FOR SOME WEIRD STUFF.

A person appears in a skull costume with glowing eyes for Halloween
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In addition to monitoring social media for memes and trends, designers can get an idea of what consumers are looking for by shadowing their online searches. Costumeish.com monitors what people are typing into their search bar to see if they’re missing out on a potential hit. “People search for odd things sometimes,” Weeks says. “People want to be a cactus, a palm tree, they’re looking for a priest and a boy costume. People can be weird.”

9. THEY HAVE WORKAROUNDS FOR BIG PROPERTIES.

Go out to a party this year and you’re almost guaranteed to run into the Queen of the North. But not every costume maker has the official license for Game of Thrones. What are other companies to do? Come up with a design that sparks recognition without sparking a lawsuit. “Our biggest seller right now is Sexy Northern Queen,” Quintana says. “It’s inspired by a TV show.” But she won’t say which one.

10. PEOPLE LOVE SHARKS.

Singer Katy Perry appears on stage with two dancing sharks
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

From the clunky Ben Cooper plastic costume from 1975’s Jaws to today, people can’t seem to get enough of shark-themed outfits. “We do a lot of sharks,” Berman says. “Maybe it’s because of Shark Week in the summertime, but sharks always tend to trend. People just like the idea of sharks.”

11. DEAD CELEBRITIES MEAN SALES.

A portrait of Hugh Hefner hangs in the Playboy Mansion
Hector Mata/Getty Images

It may be morbid, but it’s a reality: The high-profile passing of celebrities, especially close to Halloween, can trigger a surge in sales. “Before Robin Williams died, I couldn’t sell a Mork costume for a dollar,” Weeks says. “After he died, I couldn’t not sell it for less than $100.” This year, designers expect Hugh Hefner to fuel costume ideas—unless something else pops up suddenly to grab their attention. “Last year, when Prince died, that was almost trumped by [presidential debate audience member] Ken Bone,” Berman says. “He became almost more popular than Prince.”

12. THEY PROFIT FROM PEOPLE SHOPPING AT THE LAST MINUTE.

A man shops for Halloween costumes in a retail store
Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images

Ever wonder why food and other novelty costumes tend to outsell traditional garb like pirates and witches? Because costume shopping for adults is usually done frantically and they don’t have time to compare 25 different Redbeards. “People tend to do it at the very last minute, so we want something that pops out at them,” Berman says. “Like, ‘Oh, I want to be a crab.’”

Weeks agrees that procrastination is profitable. “We make a lot of money on shipping,” he says. “Some people get party invites on the 25th and so they’re paying for next-day air.”

13. IT’S NOT ACTUALLY A SEASONAL BUSINESS.

A woman shops for costumes in a retail store
Rhona Wise/Getty Images

Everyone we spoke to agreed that the most surprising thing about the Halloween business is that it’s not really seasonal on their end. Costumes are designed year-round, and planning can take between 12 and 18 months. “It’s 365 days a year,” Quintana says. “We’ll start thinking about next Halloween in December.” Weeks says he'll begin planning in May 2018—for Halloween 2019.

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This Just In
Target Expands Its Clothing Options to Fit Kids With Special Needs
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Target

For kids with disabilities and their parents, shopping for clothing isn’t always as easy as picking out cute outfits. Comfort and adaptability often take precedence over style, but with new inclusive clothing options, Target wants to make it so families don’t have to choose one over the other.

As PopSugar reports, the adaptive apparel is part of Target’s existing Cat & Jack clothing line. The collection already includes items made without uncomfortable tags and seams for kids prone to sensory overload. The latest additions to the lineup will be geared toward wearers whose disabilities affect them physically.

Among the 40 new pieces are leggings, hoodies, t-shirts, bodysuits, and winter jackets. To make them easier to wear, Target added features like diaper openings for bigger children, zip-off sleeves, and hidden snap and zip seams near the back, front, and sides. With more ways to put the clothes on and take them off, the hope is that kids and parents will have a less stressful time getting ready in the morning than they would with conventionally tailored apparel.

The new clothing will retail for $5 to $40 when it debuts exclusively online on October 22. You can get a sneak peek at some of the items below.

Adaptive jacket from Target.
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Adaptive apparel from Target.

Adaptive apparel from Target.

Adaptive apparel from Target.

[h/t PopSugar]

All images courtesy of Target.

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