Can consumers save the maker of the iconic Necco Wafers and Sweethearts?
- The New England Confectionery Co.—creators of Necco Wafers since 1847 and the oldest continually-operated candy maker in the U.S.— gave its employees notice last month that it would close in May if it didn’t find a new owner.
- According to the Wall Street Journal, since the notice was sent, sales of Necco candies have soared. CandyFavorites.com fielded hundreds of calls during a weekend, while CandyStore.com reported a 50% sales jump in Necco products. One fan even offered to trade in her car for a supply.
- A closure would affect about 400 employees and a number of nostalgic products, including Squirrel Nut Zippers, Clark bars, Mary Jane, Candy Buttons and Sweethearts.
The fact that Necco Wafers have been compared to chalk and drywall doesn’t seem to matter to the army of social media-savvy consumers pushing to save the candy maker via a #savenecco hashtag. Whether or not it will be enough to entice a buyer remains to be seen, but the movement shows there is clearly a lot of love for this brand, and Necco should leverage this sentimental value in its attempt to survive.
While the attention the brand has received on social media, in the press and through other avenues clearly has made an impact, the company could hit Facebook and Twitter to leverage any capital it has left before time runs out, just in case.
When nostalgic Americans were faced with the prospect of losing the iconic Twinkies brand in 2012, a suitor arrived just in time to stop that from happening. Alec Gores, CEO of the Gores Group, recognized the unique opportunity to invest in an iconic brand “with strong fundamentals.” Today, Hostess remains a growing, thriving brand. According to the Boston Consulting Group and IRI, Hostess was recently ranked second among growth leaders for midsize companies, behind Chobani.
Hostess’ “survive and thrive story” can serve as a case study for Necco, as the company checks off those same “iconic” and “fundamentals” boxes.
However, unlike Hostess, Necco will have to overcome a significant taste deficiency, with one consumer on Candystore.com claiming the wafers “suck all moisture out of my mouth and all joy out of my soul.” The Twinkie panic happened in 2012, when health and wellness was not as big of a trend as it is today. Now, health and wellness attributes are deeply intertwined across most food and beverage categories, perhaps making candy less appealing of a buy at this time.
Working in Necco’s favor is that coveted millennial demographic. According to Lauren Friedman, head of global social business enablement at Adobe, nostalgia marketing strongly resonates with engaging millennials.
Necco has recently modernized messages on its Sweethearts pastel candy hearts and launched special celebrations on Valentine's Day. It also invested in a 2014 multimedia outreach campaign called "Are You Clark Enough?" to attract millennial consumers to its Clark Bar. The effort took the product from 700 retail outlets to more than 3,000, according to Hill Holliday, a Boston ad agency. It should consider tapping into that expertise now.
It’s hard to bet against Necco, which has been a part of American culture since before the Civil War. But history's only help in saving Necco and its lineup of candies could be the nostalgia that's tied to them, at least it better hope, or else the candy itself will become history.
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