An American Icon in Peril: Candy Hearts Factory Closes Without Notice


The candies Sweethearts, more popularly known as candy hearts or conversation hearts They are an icon of the American confectionery whose existence could be in danger. The company's factory that has been making these and other candies for more than a century closed last Tuesday by surprise, setting off all alarms.

According to The Boston Globe, the news even caught workers by surprise, who were asked not to come to work the next day. Necco, the original company founded in 1901, was acquired in May by Round Hill Investments LLC, but now the firm has decided to sell the company back to another company, shutting down the factory and without clarifying whether they will produce more candy again.

Candy hearts, sweet romantic messages loaded with nostalgia

The history of these colorful hearts with messages is linked to that of the Necco company itself - or NECCO, New England Confectionery Company-, founded in 1901. To date, it is the oldest candy company in the United States and a pioneer in the industrial production of candies, associated mainly with wafers, disc-shaped pressed sugar candies.

Oliver Chase, one of the founders, created in 1847 a machine capable of cutting compressed caramel mass into tablets, thus initiating industrial production. One of his brothers had the idea shortly after adding short messages to each candy, also giving them the shape of a heart. This is how the conversation hearts. In 1901 they associated with other small businesses, founding Necco.

This company has therefore been producing some of the most popular sugar candies in the United States for more than a century, of which the recipe or format has hardly changed in all these decades. Today the catalog of sweets and sweets has multiplied almost infinitely, but wafers and hearts managed to survive, especially because of that nostalgic character that many Americans associate with their childhood and with pop culture itself.

In Europe they are seen less; They are better known in the United Kingdom where another company produces its own version, and they have arrived in our country although without making too much noise. But in the United States they have always been that classic sweet that cannot be missing on Valentine's Day, especially among children and young people, as a naive gesture of affection or humor that is already part of their tradition.

Candy hearts are nothing more than little pressed sugar candies with a chalk texture, in pastel colors and with little printed phrases. The most famous ones show short romantic messages, like “Kiss me”, “Hug me”, “Crazy 4U” or “Miss You”; Models with more humorous touches have also been added, such as “High five”, “Wink, wink”, “E-mail me” or “LOL”, there are even versions in Spanish and some symbols.

Since Necco bought the Stark Candy Company in 1990, candy hearts are officially sold as Sweethearts, although many people still know them as candy hearts or conversation hearts, because it is assumed that by exchanging different models a more or less loving conversation can be established with the person concerned.

Their popular character as an American icon is reflected in the multiple appearances they have had in novels, movies and television series, such as The Simpsons, Futurama or Awkward, one of my favorites. The possibility of playing with the messages and their possible misinterpretations gives a lot of play in comedy.

The end of an era?

Despite the fact that it seems that the popularity and sales of the candies continue year after year - Necco says that 2 billion candies are sold out during the Valentine's Day campaign in just six weeks - the future of the company and its products Is in danger.

In 2007 the company was bought by the private equity fund American Capital Strategies, in theory as an alliance to expand and strengthen the leadership of the company, which throughout its history has been acquiring other brands and candy products, such as the Squirrel Nut Zippers.

In early 2018, CEO Michael McGee announced that they would be forced to drastically reduce their production if they couldn't find a buyer. In May of this year, Necco underwent a debt auction and was bought by Spangler Candy Company, an operation that finally did not come to fruition, then moving to the aforementioned Round Hill Investments.

Round Hill is an investment company led by millionaire C. Dean Metropoulos and his sons, who already saved another mythical company, Hostess Brands, famous for the Twinkies, from bankruptcy in 2013. But the relationship with Necco has not lasted long; According to recent statements, they have decided to sell Necco to another company, suddenly paralyzing the activities of the candy factory.

Oh no!! No more candy hearts? Necco Candy Company Plant Suddenly Shuts Down via @thedailybeast

- Ann Nyberg (@AnnNyberg) July 26, 2018

The lack of more details about the operation makes one fear the worst, since at the moment it is not known who has acquired the company or if production of the legendary candy hearts will resume in the near future.

The news has not sat well with the American population that, although it does not seem to be a very appreciated candy for its flavor, it is clear that it has great sentimental significance for millions of people. It is very curious that nostalgia that makes us feel attached and sad for something as vain as a simple sugar candy.

Images | Unsplash - Necco
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