- Texas candy manufacturer Atkinson Candy Company will begin selling the Mary Jane candy brand through a licensing agreement with Spangler Candy Company, according to a press release sent to Food Dive.
- The peanut and molasses flavor combination will remain the same, but the packaging will be updated to have a twist wrap and the dimensions of each piece will be reduced to bite-size.
- The new Mary Jane candies will be available in early 2020.
After originally bidding on for New England Confectionery Co. (Necco) brands and having the deal fall apart at the last minute, Spangler Candy managed, in a roundabout fashion, to acquire the company's classic brands, which included Mary Jane.
While Spangler has been showering a significant amount of attention on Necco Wafers and Sweethearts, two of the now-defunct company’s most popular brands, Mary Janes are another story. First sold as penny candies in 1914, nothing much changed about the treat for more than a century. Both the recipe and the wrapper — a folded piece of yellow wax paper with a red stripe — remained virtually unchanged. There were a few exceptions, including special edition, full-sized Mary Jane bars and a seasonal Halloween mix.
Even before Necco went bankrupt, it was time for Mary Jane to undergo an update.
While Spangler is willing to underwrite an update effort for Sweethearts, which has a strong niche following and whose presence on shelves is sorely missed, Mary Janes may be better suited for a company like Atkinson, which specializes in classic candies. Atkinson, which sells other nostalgic brands like Chick-O-Stick, Slo Poke and Black Cow, has carved out a market for lovers, and Mary Jane will fit right in.
Nostalgic candies are not just for the older generation, although they elicit a strong emotional connection for those who grew up with them. Making and marketing these classic candies for a younger generation also has a payoff. Appealing to nostalgic ideas plays on consumer heartstrings and can persuade them to open their wallets, even if it's for an era they have never personally experienced. Another study conducted by the Journal of Consumer Research found people are willing to pay more when they’re nostalgic because it provides an immediate sense of happiness and comfort — a fact that Atkinson appears to have latched on to.
Atkinson has its work cut out for it to re-popularize these candies in a market that is turning away from sugar in favor of healthier alternatives. At the same time, there may be an unexpected advantage for the boutique candy manufacturer. As bigger companies are looking to grow their portfolios through refocusing on snack acquisitions, candy sales are continuing to edge higher. Chocolate candy sales rose 0.7% to $14.2 billion in the 52-weeks ended April 21, but non-chocolate treats grew 2.1% in that same period, according to data from IRI. If Atkinson turns its attention to catering to that demand, it will continue to have a growing number of taste buds to satisfy — with less intense competition from other companies.
With a modern packaging update to appeal to today’s branding expectations and a push to convince consumers that a peanut and molasses taffy treat is a modern moment of indulgence that will take them on a trip down memory lane, Mary Janes may make a comeback.
Although unlikely to ever compete with more popular peanut options like Butterfinger or taffy standards like Laffy Taffy, that may not be the goal. Atkinson and Spangler clearly saw some potential in a brand that has weathered numerous economic downturns and outlasted generations. The companies just have to show consumers why they too should see the light and take a bite.