Ocala is home to the PAAS Easter egg-coloring company
Published: Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 11:09 a.m.
Probably on Friday, Marge and Loring Felix will sit down with their 9-year-old son, Christopher, in their Ocala home and begin coloring eggs for Easter.
Easter events in Gainesville
John Hughes Palm Sunday Concert: Singing live, performance followed by large church lunch, everyone welcome, 10 a.m. today, The Church at Sand Hill, 11011 NE 112th Court, Archer. Free. (772-529-8443)
Easter Bunny Photos: The Easter Bunny will be at the Oaks Mall for photos with children or pets, 6-8 p.m. Monday, Oaks Mall, 6419 Newberry Road. Free. (331-0040)
Easter Crafts: Create Easter-themed crafts, 3-4 p.m. Tuesday, High Springs Branch Library, 135 NW First Ave., High Springs. Free. (386-454-2515)
Holy Week and Easter Services: Communion Service commemorating the Last Supper, 7 p.m. Thursday; self-guided tour of the “Stations of the Cross” commemorating the Crucifixion, 8 p.m. Friday; Easter Services celebrating the Resurrection, 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. traditional, 9 a.m. contemporary Sunday, First United Methodist Church, 1126 E. Silver Springs Blvd. Free. (537-0207)
Good Friday Service: First Baptist of Alachua is hosting a Good Friday Service, 7 p.m. Friday, First Baptist Church of Alachua, 14005 NW 146th Ave., Alachua. Free. (386-462-1337)
Annual Waldo Easter Egg Hunt: More than 1,700 eggs filled with candies and trinkets, special scavenger-hunt eggs lead to more prizes, including gold- and silver-egg prizes, free photos with the Easter bunny, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Waldo Farmer's & Flea Market, 17805 U.S. 301, Waldo. Free. (904-483-0727)
2nd Annual Easter Egg Hunt: Egg hunts for all children, free food, cake walk, face painting, live music, door prizes and more, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Abundant Grace Community Church, 12505 NW 39th Ave. Free. (337-8311)
Easter Celebration: Event featuring fun, food, games, crafts and an Easter Egg Hunt, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Celebration United Methodist Church, 9501 SW Archer Road. Free. (367-8005)
Easter Egg Hunt: Community egg hunt, 11 a.m. Saturday, Suwannee River Moose Family Center 325, 8231 NW 167th Place, Fanning Springs. (www.suwanneerivermoose325.com)
It's a scene that'll be duplicated in millions of homes across the country this week. Odds are, the hues most of them use will come from Ocala.
Ocala, you see, is home to Signature Brands, which since 1999 has owned PAAS — generally considered the name in Easter egg decorating. There are a couple of competitors, but the Ocala unit owns about 80 percent of this niche market.
"We, of course, let Christopher do the majority of the dying and write the names of family members on the eggs with crayons because he enjoys it so much," Marge Newsom-Felix said. "I still remember doing it when I was a little one.
"My mother told me, ‘Marge, I've been using PAAS dyes since your older brother was 2,'?" she added. He's 64 now, meaning it was 62 years ago that Catherine Newsom started buying the coloring dyes for her family that eventually grew to 10 children.
But it's not really so surprising; after all, PAAS Easter egg dyes have been around a lot longer — for more than 130 years.
According to IncredibleEgg.com, "if you laid the PAAS egg dye kits sold each year end-to-end, they would reach from Miami to Chicago — that's nearly 1,400 miles." That's a lot of color, but then we dye between 180 million and 200 million eggs each Easter.
And not just with simple pastels. Designs nowadays include sparkly, tie-dyed, marbled, splattered, tattooed, sports shapes, animal shapes, mini-monster shapes, stamped and some even with a feel of velvet. To get the eggs this way, we buy some 10 million coloring kits.
"The top two selling kits are made right here," noted Brand Manager Brittany Lacey, a 25-year-old Ocala native who said she never dreamed as a young girl coloring Easter eggs with the PAAS kits her mother bought that one day she'd be the one selling them.
"I've been living in Ocala my whole life, and I didn't know everything Signature Brands did," she said. "It's surprising and kind of cool all the products that are made here in Ocala."
Though she has an office on the third floor of the Signature Brands headquarters overlooking I-75 a bit west of the College of Central Florida, Lacey often is found in the PAAS production and distribution facilities, overseeing every aspect.
She also goes to places beyond, like Minneapolis — in the winter. And to Washington, D.C., next Monday for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll that PAAS has sponsored for 21 years.
Also, closer to home, on Saturday, PAAS once again hosts Ocala's Eggstravaganza between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at Tuscawilla Park — an event the company has presented since relocating to Ocala 13 years ago.
"We'll probably have between 3,000 and 5,000 [people] show up," Lacey said. "It's really nice being involved in a company that's so much a part of Ocala and gives back so much to Ocala." Thousands of eggs — dyed real ones and candy-filled plastic ones — will be subject to the hunt in those four hours.
Lacey took on the PAAS top job in August. "I'm so excited," she said. "I've been working on Easter 2013 since then." She's already thinking Easter 2014, which will be April 20.
"I've got a calendar of Easters for the next 10 years," she said. "We have to be very aware of when Easter falls." It is, after all, the only significant holiday that falls on a different Sunday each year, sometimes skipping from March to April or back.
And that means different shipping schedules, production schedules, different budgets and so forth each year — unlike, say, sister unit Pumpkin Masters that's tied to the fixed Halloween. There's also developing new products and testing them — more often than not right at her desk.
"I will frequently sit here and actually dye eggs," Lacey said. "What about this process is difficult, what don't I like? And how can we make it easier, add more fun, more play value?"
Answering these questions helps determine if the product is suitable for the PAAS key demographic: mothers 25 to 45 with children 3 to 12 at home.
"I use raw eggs; I do it very carefully," she laughed. She tests every new product before it's greenlighted for adding to the PAAS lineup. "Either I do them or my boss does them," Lacey said. "I am by no means a Martha Stewart with eggs."
Among the new products this year is the Grip 'n Dip, plastic tongs designed for wee hands helping with the coloring chores; they're way more secure than those flimsy wire things we grew up with.
Not long ago, she added, she found a suggestion on Pinterest — "I'm an avid user of Pinterest" — about a way to bake eggs hard rather than boil them. "This is something new I discovered while dying 120 eggs," she said. "It works!"
Directions are on the PAAS website along with other decorating tips: Preheat oven to 325 degrees; place eggs individually into muffin tins; cook for 30 minutes; place eggs one by one into cold water for 10 minutes. The directions also warn the eggs will be "very hot," so use tongs.
Another tip: Mix color tablets with three tablespoons of vinegar "to get bright colors"; allow them to fully dissolve before adding a half cup of tap water.
PAAS itself has been around almost as long as Ocala. According to a company history on its website, the original PAAS was founded in 1880 by Newark, N.J., drug store owner William Townley. Folks would buy his packets of Townley's Easter Egg Dye for five cents.
The history continues that he renamed his business to the PAAS Dye Company; "the name PAAS comes from ‘Passen,' the word that his Pennsylvania Dutch neighbors used for Easter."
At some point by 1991, pharmaceutical giant Schering-Plough picked up PAAS, according to various online reports. Signature Brands bought the unit in late 1999 and moved primary production from Chattanooga, Tenn., to Ocala the following year.
At the time it was a $13 million business selling 13 decorating kits. Today, it brings in more than $15 million with some 28 different kits.
"It probably didn't show up on their calculator," a Signature Brands executive said in 2000 of the purchase. "We're much smaller. We will focus on it because it is part of our long-term business plan."
Rick Allen can be reached at email@example.com.
Inside the shell: Some Easter egg facts
■ Colored eggs were used to celebrate spring by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. The first Christians known to use colored eggs for Easter were the 13th-century Macedonians; crusaders brought the custom back with them to Europe.
■ Persians as far back as 3000 b.c. gave gifts of colored eggs to celebrate the first day of spring.
■ Most cultures around the world use the egg as a symbol of new life and rebirth.
■ King Edward of England once paid 18 pence for 450 eggs to be gold-leafed and given as Easter gifts.
■ It takes a hen between 24 and 26 hours to lay one egg.
■ Some 14,000 eggs are typically dyed for use at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll the day after Easter.
■ President and Nancy Reagan in 1981 were the first occupants of the White House to present wooden commemoration eggs; the eggs bore autographs of actors, famous politicians and athletes.
■ Before egg-dying kits, egg colorings were made from vegetables, edible flowers, fruit, coffee, tea, leaves, bark and roots.
■ Americans are expected to spend $145.13 per person this year on Easter candy, apparel and food.
■ The largest reported Easter egg exceeds 25 feet high and weighs 8,000 pound; it was made of chocolate and marshmellow spread over a steel frame.
■ Among the most famous Easter eggs were those created by Peter Carl Faberge for Russian czars before the 1917 revolution; the eggs were made of precious metals and jewels and featured a "surprise" inside. Of 50 Imperial eggs, 42 are known to have survived; 10 are on display in the Kremlin Armoury in Moscow.
■ "Easter Egg" is the term applied to unexpected goodies deliberately placed in software by game and video programmers.
Sources: PAAS, History.com. Incredibleegg.com, Whitehouse.gov, About.com, National Retail Federation