If you’re a slave to your inbox, you’ve probably developed an allergy to cutesy email greetings. We certainly have. So when the Peanutters, the folks who drive the Planters Nutmobile, opened a note with a peppy “Shell-o,” we had a reaction. The wrong one, it turned out.
The three who piloted the truck–the Iconic Legume, they call it–to our hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan were an unusually good-tempered and unapologetically goofy bunch. Without an ounce of forced Corporate Brand Strategy, they happily showed us around the vehicle and explained that they have one job (two if you count not crashing the fiberglass nut): spreading smiles. They do this mainly by showing up in places where there are people and cameras.
The team has traveled about 13,000 miles together, mostly to small community gatherings like the farmer’s market where we met them or private events. This is a change borne of the coronavirus pandemic—in previous years the Nutmobile spent its time at larger events, like state fairs and festivals. If, like us, the Nutmobile makes you think of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, know that Kraft Heinz owns both brands, and they’ll be traveling together between Thanksgiving and Christmas, visiting factories to thank the workers who have been making and packaging our food during the pandemic.
But it’s the Nutmobile we’re here to crack. There are three that tour all year, each 26 feet long, 11.5 feet tall (a reminder is pasted on the dashboard), 8.5 feet wide, and weighs as much as 3 million peanuts. Based on some back-of-the-napkin calculations, we estimate around 6600 pounds. The peanut shell was custom-built by Turtle Transit in Hudson, Massachusetts, a fabricator that specializes in marketing vehicles. The Nutmobile’s ridges are formed by pool noodles covered in fiberglass. It rides on a 2014 Isuzu W4 chassis and has a GM-built 6.0-liter V-8 engine that makes between 322 and 360 hp when GM employs it in various trucks. We weren’t allowed to drive the Nutmobile (we asked), so we had to rely on the word of Peanutters Danny Holton, Shannon Hope, Grace Noice for a sense of its capabilities.
Though they had to attend a full day of training with the Madison County police in Madison, WI, before Planters would hand over the keys, they say driving the Nutmobile is much like driving an RV. It can go up to 80 mph and has enough power to allow highway passing when necessary. We note a slight blankness behind the eyes that suggests they may not be telling the whole truth when they say the ride is smooth, but they will at least own up to the fact that the steering can be a little dodgy in high winds. When asked about fuel economy they’ll say only that the Nutmobile gets “unlimited smiles per gallon,” but their stated schedule of re-fuels every hour and a half or so tells the true story.
Then there’s the hardship we hadn’t thought to ask about: spectators. “A lot of people just want to get your attention, wave and give a thumbs up,” said Noice. Holton said picture-takers tend to hang in the Nutmobile’s large blind spots, making lane-changes harrowing. Hope opined on the multi-point turns required to extricate the Mobile from tight spots. Still, the team, which has been working and traveling together since July, had a good attitude about these challenges. “When in doubt, get out,” Noice chirped. “One of us is always ready to jump out and help.”
This kind of good cheer and tolerance for workplace hardships is perhaps why Planters only hires people fresh out of college. Holton, Hope, and Noice all graduated in 2020 with degrees in business or communications. Holton and Hope applied for the job after hearing about it from on-campus recruiters, but Noice found the posting on her own.
“I saw the Super Bowl ad where Mr. Peanut died and I was like “What!,” Noice says, recalling the advertising stunt in which Planters mascot Mr. Peanut did a Groot. “Then Baby Nut was born and I was looking for merch and I saw the job application three days before it closed and now I drive a peanut for a living. So it’s been a whirlwind.”
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