What Do PAAS and Manischewitz Do the Rest of the Year?

Illustration by 731. Photographs by Getty.

For Christians and Jews, this is a time of year to think about renewal and repentance, liberation and grace. The good people who work at PAAS and Manischewitz are also thinking about the secular process of raking it in. PAAS is the leading American maker of kits for dying Easter eggs. Manischewitz is the nation’s largest manufacturer of matzo, which even Jews who do not keep kosher consume on Passover.

There’s nothing particularly unusual about a business that makes much of its money at one time of year (e.g., H&R Block, or the entire retail shopping sector, for that matter, which depends hugely on Christmas shopping), but few brands are so tightly tied to a single holiday. Even Necco, maker of the Valentine’s Day conversation heart, still has the Necco Wafer and the Clark Bar.

How does a company stay in business selling something that people only consume once a year? Of the two, Manischewitz is far less seasonal. The company has diligently worked to broaden its appeal beyond Passover and beyond Jews, marketing its stocks and gravies and Tiny Tam crackers as year-round, Gentile-friendly health food. In 2000, sales tied to Passover accounted for 80 percent of Manischewitz sales. By 2011, they had dropped to 40 percent. (Two ironic historical asides: 1. Manischewitz no longer makes Manischewitz wine, since 1986 it has licensed the name to Constellation Brands; and 2. The Concord grape, from which Manischewitz wine is made, was developed by a 19th century nativist farmer obsessed with developing pure American fruit varietals untainted by “Semitic” strains.)

PAAS has taken the opposite approach. There may be a raft of craft enthusiasts interested in year-round egg dying. PAAS has not set out to find those people. Some 80 percent of the egg-decorating kits PAAS sells every year are bought the week before Easter, according to Kyle Stenzel, the head of marketing for PAAS’s parent company, Signature Brands. Stenzel says they’re already making presentations to retailers for the 2014 line of products, and working on 2015. Among the new offerings for this year: “Oh So Chic,” which pairs egg dye and stick-on rhinestone shapes including a cupcake and a dragonfly, and “Touch of Velvet,” which is probably self-explanatory.

From its roots in cake decorating, Signature Brands now specializes in commercializing the way people decorate their food on holidays. Signature Brands products include Betty Crocker decorative icings and musical candles and Cake Mate decorating gels. As the company has grown, it’s become holiday-diversified. “We look at holidays in four buckets,” says Stenzel. “Easter, Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day.”

Asked whether the egg-dye manufacturer has to use part-time workers to account for the Easter surge, Stenzel said no, it could just draw from workers elsewhere in the company. When Easter is over, it can move workers over to Pumpkin Masters, which sells jack-o’-lantern carving kits. After Halloween, it can shift them to packing caramel and cheese into colorful decorative tins for the Christmas rush at Popcorn Expressions. Then there’s Valentine’s Day, but Signature doesn’t really do much there.

“It’s really a chocolate-driven holiday and we don’t have a portfolio of chocolate products,” Stenzel says.