Once upon a time — it was 2013, actually — a gal from Apple Valley met a guy from Hastings at a mutual friend’s barbecue in St. Louis Park. She thought he was intriguing — he loved sky diving and estate sales — not to mention cute.
A few months later, the two started dating. But it wasn’t until Jenny Ries (pronounced “Reese”) shared Craig Hirschey’s name (pronounced “Hershey”) with her family that she realized the universe may have been trying to tell her they could be as perfect a pairing as peanut butter and chocolate.
“I think it was my mom who said, ‘Wait, Hirschey and Ries?’ And from there we were like, ‘This could be something,’ ” Ries recalled.
Friends and family weren’t the only ones enamored of the candy-coated coincidence. When the future bride’s sister Elizabeth Ries, co-host of KSTP’s “Twin Cities Live,” shared the couple’s story on her show, she referred to their pairing as “the Hershey PR team’s dream come true.”
The Ries family has long shared an affection for Reese’s, Hershey Company’s bestselling candy brand.
“Reese’s Pieces was a nickname, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups have always been our go-to candy,” Jenny Ries said. “We would trade our Halloween candy to get more.”
Family members often referred to the brand when explaining how to pronounce their last name.
The Hirschey family didn’t have quite the same connection to the iconic chocolate company, although Hershey’s Kisses were a mainstay at Grandma’s house. “That was always her handout,” Hirschey said.
After the couple got engaged last spring, Ries contacted a woman in Hershey’s PR department to share the news, thinking the company might get a kick out of it and perhaps send a few bags of candy for the wedding.
“She wrote back immediately in all caps, ‘WE LOVE THIS STORY! WHEN CAN WE TALK?’ ” Ries said.
That’s when Hershey’s PR department let Ries in on a timely secret: The company was planning to launch a new “mashup” candy bar that, coincidentally, paired Hershey’s chocolate with Reese’s Pieces.
After a few conversations between the couple and the PR team, Hershey flew Ries and Hirschey to its Pennsylvania headquarters last summer for a daylong photo shoot to celebrate their engagement. While touring the company’s luxe Hotel Hershey, Hersheypark amusement park and the Chocolate World attraction/gift shop, the first-time models displayed their affection for each other and the Hershey’s brands — snacking on candy throughout.
“It was a lot of sugar and a lot of kissing,” Ries recalled.
In November, Hershey flew the couple to New York City and had them reveal the new candy bar at a launch party decorated with giant prints of their engagement photos.
A sweet combination
Although culinary mashups have been hot for some time — from the Thanksgiving turducken, to the bakery Cronut, to Taco Bell’s Quesarito — the confectionary world has been slow to adopt them. While candy makers seem to create endless flavor riffs (another Hershey brand, Kit-Kat, comes in green tea, wasabi and sweet potato varieties), this was the first time Hershey had merged two of its brands.
The combination of Hershey’s and Reese’s Pieces is so natural that fans have wondered why someone didn’t come up with the idea sooner. Adding Reese’s peanut flavor and candy-shell crunch to the century-old Hershey’s bar livens up a treat that many chocolate lovers, who increasingly favor dark varieties over milk, have relegated to the campfire s’more.
Fred Haberman, co-founder of Minneapolis’ 25-year-old Haberman marketing agency, has made a career out of using stories to promote brands. He considers Hershey’s connection with Hirschey and Ries as “winning the marketing lottery.”
Authentic stories involving real people “help humanize a brand,” he said, so the products connect at a deeper level. Pairing the bar with the couple’s poised-to-go-viral story could be especially powerful at a time when legacy brands face pressure to reinvent themselves for millennials, who show less loyalty to the brands their parents and grandparents relied on.
Since the couple’s engagement, family and friends have been having fun with the candy connection. At one of Ries’ bridal showers, guests were served a giant Hershey Kiss-shaped cake with silver glitter icing and Reese’s inside. Ries also received a crystal dish shaped like a Hershey Kiss, a tradition for women marrying into the Hirschey family.
A few people have observed that the couple’s first names also have a corporate connection — to the Jenny Craig weight-loss company. (The couple aren’t planning on sharing their story with that brand, Ries said. “I think we’re going to stick with the candy theme.”)
Next weekend, the 230 guests attending the Ries/Hirschey wedding in Brainerd, Minn., will avail themselves of Reese’s and Hershey’s cakes as well as 750 pounds of treats sent by Hershey to stock a candy buffet. The company also provided Reese’s and Hershey’s garb for the hotel gift bags as well as a personalized version of the mashup candy bars for all the guests.
Hirschey, who describes the new candy bar as “really good,” said that incorporating Reese’s Pieces into the Hershey’s chocolate “spices it up and makes it fun.”
Perhaps paralleling the way his life has been enriched by Ries’ arrival.
“I prefer it to the plain Hershey bar,” Hirschey remarked, further increasing his prospects of wedded bliss.