The humble pea has yet to receive the recognition it truly deserves in advertising. Inspired by my deep affection for these small edible legumes, I embarked on a mission to explore their representation within the industry and offer insights on how they can be better appreciated.
Peas are my Roman Empire. I find it hard to put it into words, but I just adore them. I purchase them frequently; I am surprised the 24-hour Centra in Stoneybatter has any peas left in stock. I toss them into nearly every dish as they effortlessly infuse even my uninspired recipes with their vibrant green shell. No matter the brand, the taste will never disappoint you. They remain in season all year round, making them a consistent companion for cooking and not to mention many, many sprains. Despite my deep respect for them, I realised I knew very little about them beyond their taste. So off I went to investigate the tiny green orbs of goodness.
I first discovered that ‘pea’ comes from the Latin word ‘Pisum’, which I love. In some cultures, peas symbolize luck and prosperity, including my own. They were one of the first vegetables to be successfully frozen on an industrial scale by American inventor Clarence Birdseye – a surname that certainly rings a bell. As I searched through Google, by coincidence, and perhaps with a touch of fate, I stumbled upon an article that The Observer had published just the day before. It discussed the demise of the avocado, as a new contender had emerged to claim its throne – the crushed pea on toast, to be precise. Peas are one of the oldest cultivated crops, dating back around 9,000 years, yet the Observer covers them as a recent fad. Not to sound biased, but I find that truly impressive.
The article highlighted how there is a new appreciation for the pea, the hashtag #peasontoast has garnered over 3.3 million views on TikTok, and Google searches for “peas on toast” had surged by 133% this month.
This once simple household staple is now making its way onto menus at various contemporary restaurants in the UK and is even being featured in the latest recipe books by renowned chefs. One of the driving forces for the upswing also comes down to the fact that peas offer great value for money, which is especially beneficial amidst current concerns about food price inflation. Will this pea craze make its way to Irish social channels and restaurants? I hope so.
After reading the article, I felt my unconventional Roman Empire was validated. It then made me wonder whether the advertising sector has done the pea justice. So I delved into various pea campaigns, examining everything from the pea mascot (The Green Giant), to the pea car resulting from the collaboration between Birdseye and Volkswagen. I was then surprised to learn that 54 years ago, the first-ever color television advertisement in the UK was, in fact, promoting none other than Birds Eye Peas. It starred the actress Patsy Kensit as a child and featured the famous slogan “fresh as the moment when the pod went pop”. It reportedly cost £23 to air the advert. It’s great to see the pea one step ahead, from pioneering colour TV ads back then to remaining relevant in present-day culinary trends.
There are some but not many examples of people and brands giving peas a modern twist. Brands like BRAVE have introduced contemporary snacks like Sea Salt & Vinegar crunchy peas. Additionally, the English luxury fashion brand Anya Hindmarch has made a distinctive and somewhat eccentric move of selling Birdseye pea ice cream in her London store as part of her ‘Ice Cream Project’.
Nevertheless, brands are adopting a safe approach when it comes to campaigns and content. Most advertisements prominently showcase families with young children in the kitchen or growers in the place of process. Given that peas, according to the Observer, have evolved from a household staple to a lifestyle symbol, pea brands should consider broadening their creative and target demographic to encompass millennials and Generation Z, similar to the way avocados successfully did.
Doing this wouldn’t be out of left field, as brands are starting to say goodbye to boundaries and becoming more brave in their activation. For instance, the food sector is starting to explore new creative avenues, irrespective of their products. Aspiring entrepreneurs in the pea industry can find inspiration in challenger brands like Oatly, celebrated for their disruptive approach to health marketing. Established brands, like Birdseye, can draw influence from pioneers such as Heinz, who embrace AI for marketing despite their traditional heritage. Chefs, in turn, can look to renowned global franchises like The Avocado Show for ideas on creating a dedicated food experience centered around the beautiful pea.
Fifty-four years ago, we witnessed the transformation of peas from black & white to green on television. While I’m not suggesting we should now turn peas into the green key of our future, it is about time we see them advertised in an unexpected way that goes beyond the conventional image of a mother serving peas at the kitchen table while calling her children in from the garden.
So this is a call to action (and a challenge) for brands and restaurants to tap into the potential of these versatile green gems. Seize the opportunity to breathe life into the pea; you won’t regret it.