Mr. Peanut Page 2
At the age of 29, in 1906, he entered into a partnership with Mario Peruzzi (1875–1955), an Italian immigrant who headed the confections department at the C. P. Wentz Company, a jobber of confections and cigars in Scranton. Obici served as president and general manager. Peruzzi, who later became Obici's brother-in-law by marrying his sister Elizabeth, served as secretary-treasurer and director. They rented two floors of a downtown factory for $25 per month and began with six employees (five women and one man), two large roasters, and crude machinery. Two years later, the partners incorporated their business as Planters Nut and Chocolate Company, and expanded their line of merchandise to include chocolate-nut bars, chocolate-covered peanuts, and various chocolate confections. Their primary goal, however, was to sell branded, whole salted nuts in penny and nickel bags on a large scale. It was an extremely ambitious venture.
Spanish peanuts at the time were available for as little as ten cents a pound. Ordinary Virginia peanuts sold in bulk for twenty cents. Planters' two-ounce nickel bag of large Virginia peanuts, on the other hand, sold at the equivalent of forty cents a pound.
But Obici alleviated prospective dealers' concerns by explaining that "prices and first profits were not nearly as important as repeat business" and proved his operation based on quality and brand name were important for continued success.
Using the same organizational skills as entrepreneurs such as steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, Obici combined the various phases of production, marketing, and sales into his own enterprise. The first step towards self-sufficiency was purchasing his own place of business at 632 South Main Street. To reduce expenses, he hired family members to work for him and was actively involved in every aspect of the business. Obici also found ways to improve his product and streamline his business operations. In 1910, for example, Planters adopted the grease-proof glassine bag, which solved one of the company's major packaging problems and kept peanuts fresher longer. Planters later switched to cellophane envelopes and eventually added vapor-tight jars and tin boxes to its product line. In 1913, Obici invested $25,000 to build a shelling and cleaning mill to process raw peanuts in Suffolk, Virginia, so he no longer had to rely on suppliers. Shortly after, he introduced Planters "Nickel Lunch," a two-ounce package of whole blanched nuts selling for 5 cents, and the demand for Planters Peanuts became even greater.
Always searching for new and novel marketing techniques to enhance the popularity of his product, Obici held a contest to find a logo for the company in 1916. Anthony Gentile, a 13-year-old Virginia schoolboy, submitted the winning drawing of an animated peanut and won $5. Modified over the years by Joseph R. Fischer, a Wilkes-Barre commercial artist, the ever-dapper Mr. Peanut eventually added a top hat, white spats, ebony cane, and monocle to his distinctive ensemble. The new logo proved to be a stroke of marketing genius. Mr. Peanut appeared on every package and container produced by Planters. Obici flooded the market with Mr. Peanut marketing gimmicks in the form of toys and books targeted to the young consumers. He believed that if he could attract customers to his product as children, he could guarantee an adult market for years to come. Planters also launched an aggressive advertising campaign on a national scale in 1916 with a series of two-page spreads in the Saturday Evening Post, followed by page-length advertisements in the Ladies Home Journal, Life, McCall's, Good Housekeeping, and Better Homes & Gardens.
Obici enjoyed a banner year in 1916. Not only was his business growing by leaps and bounds, but he also married Louise Musante (1863–1938), who had operated a small peanut stand in Wilkes-Barre. The couple began to think of Suffolk, Virginia, as home and listed their legal residence as Bay Point Dairy Farm, a 260-acre estate on the Nansemond River, about ten miles from Suffolk, the center of vast peanut farms. Obici became a generous benefactor to his adopted community, endowing a hospital in memory of his beloved wife after her death in 1938.