Easter Egg Dye: A Chatterbox Investigation

Cruising around the Web, Chatterbox developed a strong suspicion that Paas, a company famous for making Easter egg dye for 120 years, had been quietly strangled to death by Signature Brands LLC, a privately-held maker of “dessert decorations and specialty baking products” that acquired Paas from Schering-Plough this past December. (Signature Brands was spun off from General Mills 13 years ago; it makes Betty Crocker icings, jells and sprinkles. General Mills still makes the Betty Crocker cake mixes itself.) The “Who We Are” page on Signature Brands’ Web site makes no mention of Paas. Chatterbox began drafting the brand’s eulogy:

Paas was the purest example in American business of the “stick to your knitting” ethic. The only product it made was useless, even to Christians, 364 days out of the year. Moreover, the one day a year it was indispensable kept shifting around the Gregorian calendar, because Easter Sunday is linked to the lunar year. Easter itself, once the most important holiday in the Christian calendar, long ago was eclipsed by Christmas, with whose frenzied gift-giving it could never compete. We will not see Paas’ like again. …

Astute critics of Chatterbox’s fact-gathering method may here wish to point out that Chatterbox would have learned Paas was still in existence had he bothered to visit his local supermarket. Instead, Chatterbox called down to Signature Brands in Ocala, Fla., where the phone was picked up by Pat Reddish, director of human resources. (Most everyone else was out for Good Friday.) Reddish deflected Chatterbox’s Mike Wallace-esque line of questioning by asserting that the Paas brand remains very much alive. When Signature acquired Paas, about 40 people, hired on a seasonal basis at the Schering-Plough plant in Cleveland, Tenn., were well along producing this year’s product line of 13 different kinds of Easter egg decorating kits. Signature contracted with the Shering-Plough workers to finish out the Easter 2000 run, then moved the equipment to Ocala. Reddish says the company is just getting that equipment set up now. It will “really gear up probably somewhere in the September-October time frame” to make next year’s batch of Easter egg dye. Like Schering-Plough, Reddish said, Signature will probably hire about 40 workers on a seasonal basis. (The word “paas,” incidentally, is derived from “Passen,” the Pennsylvania Dutch word for Easter. For more historical trivia about Easter eggs, click here.)

What’s next for Paas? Reddish says “it’s our intent to grow it.” Er, how do you find other uses for Easter egg dye? You don’t, Reddish explained. But even though Paas sells about 15 million Easter egg dye kits each year, it has only a 40 percent market share. Chatterbox was amazed to learn this. He didn’t know it had any competitors at all, unless you counted matzoh manufacturers, whose business is much less seasonal than Paas’. This impression seems to be widely shared. When the Cincinnati Enquirer tested egg-decorating kits earlier this month, it looked only at the Paas Egg Stampers, the Paas Letter Magic, and the Paas standard kit. In fact, though, rival kits are manufactured by Dudley’s and Easter Unlimited.

Reddish says Paas has the others beat hands-down on quality, and Signature intends to “be very aggressive in the marketplace.” To this end, Paas recently dispatched Paas trademarks Cotton the Bunny, Terrence the Turtle, and Feathers the Duck to an Easter-egg coloring clinic at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. The mascots will also preside at a company-sponsored Easter egg hunt in Ocala this weekend. Chatterbox wishes Signature Brands much success. If Paas doesn’t deserve a monopoly, Chatterbox doesn’t know any company that does.