- The Spangler Candy Company is reintroducing Necco Wafers to the shelves of 32 retailers this summer after a two-year absence.
- While Spangler said that the recipe for the wafers has remained "essentially unchanged," the company did use a new cooking process for the chocolate wafers to give them a "richer cocoa flavor." The other seven flavors — lemon, lime, orange, clove, cinnamon, wintergreen and licorice — remain untouched.
- These wafers have been around since 1847 and used to be sold by the New England Confectionery Co., which Spangler bought after a bankruptcy sale in 2018.
Absence can make the heart grow fonder, but after a two-year sabbatical, things may be a little different when Necco Wafers start hitting shelves again in June. The coronavirus pandemic has upended the market in many ways. It is unlikely that these wafers won't be affected by this shifted reality, but all of these changes could work to the candy's favor.
According to a survey by food innovation lab Mattson, 58% of consumers said they will immediately be ready to purchase new products. Although Necco Wafers are not new — they've been around since before the Civil War — they may be novel to a generation of younger consumers or to those who are turning toward nostalgia for comfort in these uncertain times.
Appealing to nostalgia plays on consumer heartstrings and memories, even if it's for an era they have never personally experienced. A study conducted by the Journal of Consumer Research found people are willing to pay more for nostalgic products because they provide an immediate sense of happiness and comfort. Now may be an exemplary moment to tap into nostalgia. During a similar period after the Great Recession, marketers were eager to tap into nostalgia to boost sales, according to The New York Times.
However, unfamiliarity could also work against the brand whose flavors, like clove and licorice, could be a niche choice for consumers accustomed to the offerings from candy giants Hershey, Ferrero and Mars.
Still, two years is not a long enough absence for its legion of fans to forget about the beloved candy. When the New England Confectionery Co announced it was at risk of closing its doors, The Wall Street Journal reported CandyFavorites.com fielded hundreds of calls during a weekend, while CandyStore.com reported a 50% sales jump in their products. These same fans will likely be ready to welcome the return of the wafers to shelves.
Hostess Twinkies faced a similar situation in 2012 when the company went bankrupt and the hallmark spongy, cream-filled cakes were pulled from shelves. Thanks to the brand’s strong following and nostalgic ties, their reintroduction was a success. When Twinkies came back, they were welcomed with an avalanche of support that buoyed the reconstituted Hostess brand to a second-tier rank among growth leaders for midsize companies, according to the Boston Consulting Group and IRI.
Even Twinkies made changes when they returned. The snack's shelf life was extended to 45 days from its original 26 days. The brand also works to weave in pop culture references, like minions from the "Despicable Me" movies and the 2016 remake of "Ghostbusters" to help the brand resonate with younger generations. If Necco Wafers want to survive in the big retailers, the brand will likely have to take an approach that is wider than just purely nostalgic appeal.
Clark Bars, Mary Jane candies and Sky Bars, all originally Necco candies, have relaunched with more small specialty retailers. Spangler Candies also owns Mary Jane but is distributing them through a licensing agreement with Texas candy manufacturer Atkinson Candy Company. Early in their return to shelves, the Sky Bar was reformulated and the Pennsylvania-based Boyer Candy, which bought the rights to Necco's Clark Bar, introduced Clark Cups ahead of its reintroduction of the original form.
It’s clear that while consumers still want sweet treats, their tastes are evolving and they are looking for new options to fill that craving. Although the reception of Spangler’s classic candies has thus far been a warm one, the company needs to expand beyond its core fans and attract other consumers. Accomplishing this may require some innovation. However, if any candy is able to weather changes in consumers and tastes, it's Necco Wafers, which were America's longest continually manufactured candies and have been enjoyed by consumers since before the Civil War.