In honor of Halloween, it’s time to tell the strange story of how one of America’s favorite candies got its big break.
In 1981, Steven Spielberg was preparing to film ET the Extra-Terrestrial. One of the critical scenes was Elliott, the film’s child star, who won the crumpled little alien’s trust by offering him candy.
But Universal Studios had a problem: M & Ms rejected them. The consensus now is that Mars Inc. wasn’t interested because the plot was also a bit strange. So Universal decided to move closer to its second choice, Reese’s Pieces.
At Hershey’s headquarters, New Product Development Director Jack Dowd was happy to answer the call. In the three years since Reese’s Pieces was launched, sales have declined. That’s why Dowd was eager to include his new product in the film, which is why he agreed to a deal that seemed risky at the time. As Dowd recalled in a 1991 interview, he had stated to Hershey’s President Earl Spangler, “We would spend a million dollars on a film that I couldn’t show you the script for [and] that would concern a little green creature from space. “
“Are you sure this will work?” Spangler asked him. Dowd replied with an uncomfortable “Oh, sure.”
Fortunately for Dowd’s career and candy fans everywhere, it worked. Almost 150 million people bought tickets for ET, which to date has made $ 1.33 billion, adjusted for inflation. The marketing value that Hershey has is between $ 15 million and $ 20 million.
No matter what kind of Halloween you have on Saturday, you can not only thank this little green alien for putting these candies on the card, but also saving them in many ways.
Starting with a treat called Hershey-Ets in the 1950s, the confectionery maker had perfected the method of applying a hard-shell coating. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that research and development figured out how to remove the peanut oil from the Penuche filling.
Hersheys originally called his foray in 1978 a soft peanut candy with a hard shell PBs, but soon changed the name to Reese’s Pieces. Despite the catchy name, the candy didn’t make it big, perhaps because Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups had already influenced the taste so much.
It’s easy to see how ET’s 1982 release changed all of that, but what difference an old movie could possibly make today? When analyzing the popularity of Halloween candy, it’s important to remember that children might eat the stuff but their parents will buy it.
“Buyers are really the people who are most inspired by ET,” said writer and consultant Beth Kimmerle, author of Candy: The Sweet History. Hershey’s, she said, “was able to tie this brand of candy to a movie that gave people a lot of emotion, and those emotions still play out 40 years later.”