Sweethearts have been a Valentine’s Day staple since they first debuted in 1902. The chalky , sweet candy hearts with messages like “BE MINE”, “CALL ME”, “KISS ME”, “I LOVE YOU” stamped on them have been ubiquitous every Valentine’s Day since. But not this year.
Necco (New England Confectionery Company), the manufacturers of the candy hearts, closed its doors last July after facing bankruptcy. The company was bought by Roundhill Investments LLC, a Greenwich, Connecticut firm owned by the family of Dean Metropoulos. In September, Spangler acquired two of its major brands: Necco Wafers and Sweethearts. And operations at the Necco plant ceased last July.
As a result, it’s been difficult for Sweethearts-lovers to find the Valentine’s Day classic the shelves of drugstores and local candy stores this season. Some prescient candy store owners, though, stocked up before Necco closed its doors last summer. Mitchell Cohen, third generation owner of Economy Candy, located at 108 Rivington Street on the Lower East Side, was one of them.
After the company announced that it may be selling, Cohen ordered 1,000 pounds of Necco Sweethearts conversation hearts and stored them away. He sold out before February, thanks to one customer who bought 300 pounds of the chalky candy in one order. When Cohen ran out of his supply, he made several calls to distributors, and finally found 300 pounds of larger Sweethearts—they were a little more expensive than normal, he said, but it was worth it to have them in stock. The customer who ordered the 300 pounds of candy requested another 100 pounds of the larger hearts.
“I don’t remember a time when we didn’t have them,” said Cohen, whose shop has carried Sweethearts ever since it opened in 1937. “Necco’s been around longer than we have, though,” he added.
Spangler has hinted that it will have the candy back in stores in the future. A press release on its website, titled a “Three Heart Response to Sweetheart® Fans,” features an image containing orange, purple and green Sweethearts reading “MISS U 2”, “WAIT 4 ME” and “BACK SOON.” The statement didn’t offer specifics as to when Sweethearts will grace the shelves again. Spangler did not respond to a press inquiry.
Cohen, however, said that the word on the street is that Spangler is going to produce the Sweethearts next year, but how the new candy makers will fare when they do is another matter.
“Even if it’s the same formula and the same machinery, people are going to say it doesn’t taste the same,” he explained.
Cohen didn’t increase the price of the now hard-to-find sweets for his customers. But he did say that he heard some sellers, or individuals, have taken advantage of the shortage to make a profit by selling on eBay or at a higher price. On eBay, one seller has listed an 8 oz. bag at $9.97– they’ve sold 45 bags already and have two left in stock. On Amazon, where third parties are also listing Sweethearts, a 16 oz. bag is going for $8.53 with eight packs left in stock, as listed by Media A&A on the site.
At Economy Candy, the large Sweethearts sell for $4.50 per pound (16 oz.), which can also be purchased online.
Cohen says candy-lovers can find alternatives from other brands, though he agrees there’s nothing quite like the original Sweethearts.
Brach’s, a part of the Ferrara Candy Company family, for example, makes a product very similar to Sweethearts— ‘Brach’s Conversation Hearts,’ according to Peter Goldman, the senior director of Brach’s & Seasonal Confections of Ferrara Candy Company. Brach’s version includes large and small hearts in flavors such as banana, orange, cherry, lemon, wintergreen and grape.
“We offer a much broader range of on-trend flavors, colors and even textures across our portfolio including ‘Tropical Fruit, Very Berry and Sweet and Sour,’” he said.
Goldman also said that the readability of the sayings on Brach’s hearts is better because the company uses a laser printer instead of having the sayings being stamped directly onto the hearts. They also claim their sayings are more contemporary, including some that read: “TTYL (Talk To You Later)”, “LYMY (Love You Miss You)”, “Adorbz”, and a few others. Emoticons have also made their way onto Brach’s Conversation Hearts. Goldman did say that the timeless sayings such as “Be Mine” and “Let’s Kiss” remain very popular.
Brach’s hearts are available at most retailers nationwide, including CVS in New York.
M&M’s also sells its version of conversational candy too, “Cupid’s Mix,” red, pink and white candy-covered chocolates with sayings on them. The company also offers options for customers to personalize the candy-coated chocolate for their Valentine.
At Economy Candy, though, you’ll only find the real thing. Cohen does not carry any other version of conversation hearts.
“Sometimes it’s better not to carry the second brand, people get upset that it’s not the original,” said Cohen.