Conversation hearts candies are the little hearts with cute sayings on them: Be Mine, Marry Me. They are the most popular candy for Valentine's Day season – which is estimated to generate over $1.8 Billion in candy sales.
If the biggest brand vanished, would conversation hearts still be the most popular candy? Not even close, homey.
Sweethearts were made by the New England Confectionery Company. Necco, for short. You know them as the makers of Necco wafers. And despite the Great Necco Wafer Panic of 2018, the company was not able to be saved. Necco is dead, and so are SweetHearts for now.
There are competing brands, but SweetHearts is the original, most recognized and most favored. SweetHearts' hold some level of sentimental value for most people in the US. Their nostalgia factor is strong.
Thus, when talking about conversation hearts, you're pretty much talking about SweetHearts. With over 19 million pounds sold each year, we estimate that over 80% of the conversation hearts purchased are SweetHearts brand.
It's not really possible to lose 80% and keep the throne.
So where does that leave overall conversation hearts sales this year. Down big time, we estimate.
Last year, we reported that, based on the number of pounds sold, conversation hearts were the new #1 Valentine's candy in America. Heart shaped boxes of chocolates had been overtaken after a slow and steady rise of the little sugar hearts with cute sayings on them.
Now that we have the full 2018 data, we can report that that trend increased slightly last year. As you can see in the chart above, we believe that trend will end sharply in 2019.
An 80% drop off in a sales category that is over 23 million pounds seems like a lot of wasted profit potential. Why would anyone allow those sales to slip away, you ask?
Let's step back and take a look.
Why Are SweetHearts Missing
SweetHearts were made by the oldest continually operating candy company, the New England Confectionery Company. Necco, for short. They had been making SweetHearts since 1886.
Last year, Necco announced they needed to sell the company, and the fate of SweetHearts – as well as their other brands – was thrown into limbo. Would someone buy Necco, or buy the individual brands, or would Necco and SweetHearts just die?
On July 24, 2018 the factory was shut down. Factory workers were told not to show up to work the next day.
To give you an idea of why that matters to this year's crop, here are a few numbers.
As you can see, unless the Necco factory was allowed to keep rolling, it was going to be tough to produce enough SweetHearts to meet demand come January. And if a new company was going to try and ramp up that kind of production that fast, it would be very difficult or very expensive.
In the end, Necco was bought in an auction by Round Hill Investments. They turned around and sold the SweetHearts brand to Spangler Candy Company in late September 2018. While all that time ticked away it became less and less likely that SweetHearts would be available for 2019.
That's where we are now. No SweetHearts this year, but next year is looking good.
The CEO of Spangler, Kirk Vashaw, confirmed that SweetHearts are set to return. "We are looking forward to announcing the relaunch of Sweethearts for the 2020 Valentine's Day season."
So you'll have to find another way to share sweet noncommittal innuendo this year. But only this year.
*EDIT: Any SweetHearts products you find online this year are leftover from previous years. You may or may not be ok with that. Here's an article about candy expiration dates.
*UPDATE 1/24/19: Spangler has removed a press release from their website that that was the source of the above quote from CEO Kirk Vashaw stating SweetHearts would return in 2020. CandyStore.com has not been able to verify whether that means SweetHearts could possibly not be back for the 2020 Valentine's season or if there was some other reason to pull the release from their site.
We do know that production on SweetHearts has not yet begun as of today, January 24, 2019. We also acknowledge that manufacturing is hard and takes time to get right.
Vashaw confirmed as much in the now-pulled release from September. "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," he said.
That's a good sign, from our point of view. We have been getting a lot of emails from customers who really want to make sure their favorite candy comes back the way it was before:
"When they changed the flavors several years ago, I emailed to complain. … I'm just hoping that they will please continue to make the original flavors of the conversation hearts when they bring them back." – Christine P
As of now, we remain optimistic that Sweethearts will be ready for 2020. If Spangler were to need more time to get SweetHearts right, that would be understandable and ok with us too.
*UPDATE 1/24/19 #2: Spangler has sent a new statement to CandyStore.com spelled out in candy hearts: "Miss U", "Wait 4 Me", and "Back Soon." The statement is in response to the our-pouring of affection for SweetHearts and disappointment at their absence in 2019. They sent it in the form of this image:
The statement went on in full sentences as well:
"We wish we could have Sweethearts out for the 2019 Valentine season, but it's just not possible. We are committed to making sure these brands meet consumer expectations when they re-enter the market. Doing it right takes time."
We are still awaiting comment from Spangler on the likelihood that SweetHearts will return for 2020.
Well, it's 2020 now and we do have SweetHearts, but not at the level we'd hoped for. Spangler has run into a number of complications while transitioning the Necco equipment to their own factory. Getting large, decades old equipment from Boston to Ohio does sound tough.
If you're desperate to get your hands on SweetHearts this year, act fast. The demand from local candy shops was not able to be met this year. So your best bet will be to try drugstores like CVS. Given their immense popularity and limited supply, quick action is highly recommended.
More details to follow.
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