Consumers miss their Sweethearts this Valentine's Day
- This Valentine’s Day, the original conversation hearts will not be available for the first time in more than 150 years because of NECCO's bankruptcy last year. According to Candy Store, Sweethearts were the most popular candy in 2017 and 2018, outpacing even heart-shaped boxes of chocolate.
- Spangler Candy bought the Sweethearts brand last fall and promises the candy hearts will return to shelves by next year, when they have resolved outstanding questions about manufacturing and the brand at large.
- But Sweethearts were not the only candy to disappear. NECCO's less renowned brands fell out of production after the bankruptcy, too. Smaller candy makers bid on the rights to Sky Bar and Clark Bar with little competition, but haven't said when the candy will be back in stores.
The panicked emails started to arrive in early January. Tom Hoeck, a founder of CandyStore.com, scrambled to respond to customers desperate to know whether they could buy Sweethearts conversation hearts come Valentine’s Day. The answer is no.
Spangler Candy, which purchased the brand in September, had no plans to produce Sweethearts before the holiday. It didn't have the capacity to produce the 100,000 pounds of conversation hearts a day that NECCO averaged. When the Ohio confectioner announced its purchase of the Valentine's Day staple brand, it also said it had purchased and will renovate a 20-acre campus next to its current facility to provide more room for warehouse space, future expansion and growth — presumably getting the bandwidth to make the 8 billion hearts Spangler says on its website are needed for a Valentine's season.
Some have resigned to buying Brach’s hearts instead. Though printed — not stamped with endearments — and said to be more chalky than the original version, they have to do this year. By 2020, consumers should have the option of buying Sweethearts again.
But what about the rest of NECCO’s business? Sweethearts may have been its most popular brand, but the bankruptcy disrupted production of other candies, too. NECCO was the longest running candy company in the United States before it folded.
Spangler bought both Sweethearts and the namesake wafer brand, but avoided less well-known brands like Clark Bar, Mary Jane, Squirrel Nut Zippers and Sky Bar.
The former company's chocolate confections, Clark Bar and Sky Bar, may soon reappear on shelves. But while these brands might maintain a small following, they’re unlikely to return to the main stage.
Boyer, the Pittsburgh-based confectioner that makes Mallo Cups, bought Clark Bar last fall. But Anthony Forgione, owner of the company, said it could take several months to start production.
"We're not going to just pump product out," he told Food and Wine. "We saw how upset people were about the potential of this brand not existing in this country. It's really what drove us to take a stand and bring it back. No candy bar should go out of production on its 101st birthday."
Duck Soup, a gourmet and specialty food shop in Massachusetts, snapped up Sky Bar for an undisclosed amount. Owner Louise Mawhinney hardly expected her bid for the brand to succeed. Now, she’s exploring how to make Sky Bar with the help of the former vice-president of research and development at NECCO.
Aside from the few devoutly loyal fans, nostalgia might not be enough to carry NECCO into the 21st century. It won't be easy for a company of any size to make NECCO’s products profitable. Clark Bars and Sky Bars don’t appear to have the same cult following as the wafers or conversation hearts, and Mary Janes and Squirrel Nut Zippers have been firmly planted in the penny candy nostalgia sector for years.
It will take the new owners of the old school brands several months to puzzle out production, so don’t expect to see a revival any time soon. But for the popular Sweethearts and NECCO Wafers, absence appears to make the heart grow fonder.