This Valentine’s Day, stores around the nation are all out of Sweethearts — the popular heart-shaped, message-carrying candy that has sweetened the holiday since the turn of the 20th century.
After Necco’s candy factory went out of business last year, the company sold Sweethearts to Spangler Candy Company in Bryan, Ohio, about a 45-minute drive from Hillsdale. Spangler, best known for its Dum Dums Lollipops, was unable to ramp up Sweetheart production in time for this year’s Valentine’s shoppers, but says the brand will return at a future time.
By the time the factory closed in July, it took 11 months of production at 100,000 pounds a day to make 8 billion Sweethearts for Valentine’s Day every year. Before its closing, conversation hearts were the most-purchased Valentine’s candy of 2017 and 2018, according to candystore.com.
Founded in 1901, Necco was known not only for Sweethearts, but also for its Wafers (which Spangler also acquired), colorful, sugary discs that have been made the same ways since 1847, making them America’s oldest continuously-manufactured candy.
Alexandra Brock, manager at Small Town Sweet Boutique, said she misses Sweethearts, as well as Necco’s Wafers, which she was hoping to have around Christmas time this past year.
“They’ve been around since the Civil War so I’m really sad to see them go out,” she said.
The boutique has been selling several other versions of the conversation heart — Brach’s Conversation Hearts, Smarties Love Hearts, and Sweet Tart Hearts — but Brock says for many of her customers, the other brands aren’t quite the same.
“A lot of it has to do with nostalgia. It’s the one they grew up with, it’s the oldest, it’s classic,” she said. “And it tastes good too. The taste is not for everybody, but I think that has a lot to do with it.”
At least one to two people per week visit the store asking about Necco Wafers, and more recently, about the Sweethearts. Though it’s not in stock this year, Brock said customers are glad to hear it’s in Spangler’s hands. “Especially because people know Spangler around here, it’s a sigh of relief to them to hear that.”
Around Christmas time, Small Town Sweet Boutique also buys Dum Dums and large candy canes from Spangler through distributors.
It is uncertain when Sweethearts will be back on the market. In a September press release, CEO Kirk Vashaw said the company would relaunch the brand for the 2020 Valentine’s Day season, but that release was later taken down. According to Vashaw in the earlier release, “There are a lot of manufacturing challenges and unanswered questions at this point, and we want to make sure these brands meet consumer expectations when they re-enter the market.”
Several customers nationwide have been acquiring Sweethearts off the black market, the Wall Street Journal reported. Some of Brock’s customers also say they have purchased the candy online, but found them to be “rock-hard,” since the last batch produced was last year.
Other heart candy brands have been flying off the shelves in Hillsdale. As of Tuesday morning, Small Town Sweet Boutique still had a few packages of Brach’s Conversation Hearts, while other stores in Hillsdale have run out completely. The Jonesville Walmart sold out of conversation hearts last week, and Market House sold out just a couple days ago.
Brach’s Conversation Hearts, which have been around since the 1960s, distinguishes itself from Sweethearts as a brand by adding newer colloquialisms in its messages, such as “TTYL” (Talk To You Later) and “LYMY” (Love You Miss You).
Though Sweethearts weren’t on the public market until 1902, Necco sold them by special order for weddings starting in 1866.
Director of Spangler Corporate Communications Diana Eschhofen declined to comment on the future of the Sweethearts brand — whether colors, flavors, and messages will stay the same, or whether they will be available for Valentine’s Day in 2020. Spangler did send out a release last month, however, in the form of a “three-heart response to Sweetheart fans.”
“Miss U 2,” “Wait 4 Me,” “Back Soon.”