11 Nutty Facts About Planters Peanuts
Since its founding over a century ago, Planters has joined the ranks as one of America’s most recognizable—and best-loved—brands. But there’s more to the peanut purveyors than their nattily outfitted mascot. Go nuts over these little-known tidbits about the snack company.
1. PLANTERS WAS FOUNDED BY AN ITALIAN IMMIGRANT.
Amedeo Obici, via The Obici House
Amedeo Obici was just 11 years old when he was sent from his home in Oderzo, Italy, to live with his uncle in Pennsylvania. As a young man in Wilkes-Barre, he worked at a fruit store that also had a peanut roaster. Inspired, he bought a roaster of his own, and after years of experimenting with roasting and salting peanuts, he founded Planters Peanut Company in 1906 with friend and fellow Italian immigrant Mario Peruzzi. The two chose the name "Planters" because they thought it sounded dignified. When they needed to cut costs a few years later, they moved their operation closer to the peanut-fertile lands of Suffolk, Virginia.
2. OBICI PROVED HIMSELF TO BE A MASTER MARKETER.
An ad in the 'Saturday Evening Post' from June 1921. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
To promote sales of his fledgling peanut company, Amedeo Obici devised an innovative marketing strategy: He inserted one letter of the alphabet into each bag of peanuts and gave away a free bag—later, the reward was upgraded to gold watches Obici bought for a $1 each—to anyone who collected the letters of his last name, O-B-I-C-I.
3. MR. PEANUT WAS DESIGNED BY A GRADE-SCHOOL STUDENT.
The iconic brand mascot was born in 1916 when 14-year-old Antonio Gentile submitted a sketch of the anthropomorphic peanut to a contest sponsored by the company. (A commercial artist later refined the design to include the familiar monocle, top hat, and cane.) Gentile was said to be awarded $5 for his winning sketch, but Obici was so taken with the youngster he ended up paying his way through college and medical school.
4. ONCE UPON A TIME, THERE WERE PLANTERS RETAIL STORES ACROSS THE U.S.
COURTESY NJ.COM/NORTH PLAINFIELD LIBRARY
The 1930s were a period of rapid growth that saw the company open about 100 Planters Peanut Shoppes from coast to coast—the two most famous were located in New York’s Times Square and along the Atlantic City boardwalk in New Jersey. After Planters was acquired by Standard Brands, Inc. in 1961, the stores were either closed or sold; today, around a dozen stores still operate independently in the eastern U.S.
5. THERE'S A GROUP DEDICATED TO COLLECTING PLANTERS MEMORABILIA.
Founded in 1978, the Peanut Pals is a group of roughly 300 collectors across the U.S. and Canada who are Mr. Peanut obsessives. The nonprofit organization took their name from a 1927 Planters advertising pamphlet. Every year, they host a convention for fans to show off and sell their Planters and Mr. Peanut wares—everything from housewares and clothing items to old posters and oversized peanut tins. This year's convention will be held May 15-18 in Las Vegas, if you're looking for some gifts for the legume fan who has everything.
6. MR. PEANUT WAS A STAR ATTRACTION AT THE NEW YORK WORLD'S FAIR.
New York City hosted both the 1939–'40 and the 1964–'65 World’s Fairs, where the dapper mascot was a huge draw. The souvenir peanut bowls from 1939 can still be found on various resale sites, and today a wooden pin in Mr. Peanut’s likeness can fetch upward of $100 at auction.
7. THE COMPANY ENCOURAGES FANS TO TAKE A STAB AT SETTING WORLD NUT RECORDS.
Yes, the World Nut Records are a real thing, and they reward participants who set records for doing any number of silly feats that involve Planters nuts. Recent category winners have included "Most Peanuts Hit With a Baseball Bat in 15 Seconds" and "Largest Group to Lie Down and Spell 'Nuts.'"
8. A TRAVELING NUTMOBILE IS STAFFED BY BRAND AMBASSADORS KNOWN AS THE PEANUTTERS.
Peter Roan via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
In 2014, ahead of last year's 100th birthday of Mr. Peanut, the company hired nine recent college grads to drive three 27-foot-long Nutmobiles around the country to celebrate (shell-ebrate?), making stops along the way at stores, sporting events, and concerts. The foam-and-fiberglass Nutmobile—which has its own pun-packed blog—weighs in at 13,000 pounds. But this wasn't the first Nutmobile—in 1935, a Planters salesman made his rounds in a shell-shaped car. That Nutmobile predated even the famous Oscar Mayer Weinermobile!
9. PLANTERS HAS BEEN COMMENDED FOR THEIR SUSTAINABILITY EFFORTS.
In 2015, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality recognized Planters’s 409,000-square-foot dry-roasting facility in the state with an environmental award for being "zero waste" certified for land-filled materials, and for reducing energy and water consumption. Additionally, Planters is a founding member of the African Cashew Initiative, which educates African nut farmers on sustainability efforts, and the company has opened various urban green spaces and parks.
10. BUT THEY'RE NO STRANGERS TO CONTROVERSY.
An ad from 1970. Classic Film via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
A 49-year-old Florida man sued Planters in 2010 after breaking his tooth on a 1-inch rodent bone found in one of their cans of nuts, causing him to rack up a $15,000 medical bill for oral surgery. "Scientists at that lab confirmed it was a bone, but could not determine what part of the process it was introduced to the peanut canister," reported the Sarasota Herald-Tribune at the time. "The lab found no evidence of surface heating, meaning it was not in there when the peanuts were roasted. But it is coated with the same material as the nuts." Planters would not comment on the lawsuit. A similar suit was filed four years earlier in Illinois.
11. BILL HADER HAS BEEN THE VOICE OF MR. PEANUT. (AND SO HAS ROBERT DOWNEY JR.).
Saturday Night Live
alum Bill Hader was tapped in 2013 to voice Mr. Peanut in ads; Hader is, ironically, highly allergic to peanuts. He took over the role of the monocled mascot from Robert Downey Jr., who was hired to voice the character in 2010, marking the first time Mr. Peanut had ever spoken.