Candy Sweethearts will be pretty hard to come by this Valentine's season. However, if you do find a bag this year, leave it on the shelf!
WARNING THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS DISTURBING INFORMATION ABOUT A COMPANY THAT USED TO MANUFACTURE A PRODUCT THAT YOU MAY ASSOCIATE WITH GREAT CHILDHOOD MEMORIES. IF YOU HAVE A WEAK STOMACH, DO NOT KEEP READING. LET A FRIEND READ IT AND GIVE YOU THE HIGHLIGHTS LATER. CAN'T SAY I DIDN'T WARN YOU.
News broke this week about this year's shortage of one of the most iconic symbols of Valentine's Day. That's right the conversation heart candy known as Sweethearts will be in short supply in 2019.
If you're not familiar with this sweet treat, it's the one with the cute little sayings like "Be Mine" "True Love" and "Love Me". It's the candy that we passed out in grade school before text messages existed and telling a boy you liked him was as simple as "checking yes or no" on a piece of notebook paper. You know....the candy that tastes like chalk, but for some reason we always bought for the sake of nostalgia.
Yeah...those little guys will be hard to find (or more than likely) completely missing from store shelves this year due to a gap in production.
What is even more important to note, is that if you DO happen to come across a lone bag on a Walmart shelf or in any store for that matter...I HIGHLY recommend that you keep on walking! Do not buy that bag of candy! Please promise me...promise yourself, you will not buy that bag...and I'll tell you why right after we take a classic Cyd "side note" to give you some context.
The seasonal candy Sweethearts, as we know them, were first created by the New England Confectionery Company, or Necco. Similar heart candies were made by competitors back in the day. However, Necco was the first company to start printing sayings on the candy in 1866 using a machine designed and patented by one of the first owners of Necco, Daniel Chase.
Up until May 2018, when the company was sold in a bankruptcy auction for $18.8 Million to the family-owned Spangler Candy Company of Ohio, Necco was the "oldest continuously operating candy company in the United States."
The closing of Necco isn't a total loss though. The Spangler Candy Company isn't new to the candy game as they've been pushing (selling) candy since 1906. They are also the makers of some of our childhood favorites such as "Dum-Dums lollipops and the orange marshmallow Circus Peanuts."
If the company was purchased in mid-2018, why will we be missing the Sweethearts this year?
It all boils down to production time. It takes 11 months to crank out 100,000 pounds of Sweethearts per day to meet the demand for the conversation candy during the Valentine's Day season. Oh...and that amount of product is all sold within the 6 week time frame leading up to Valentine's Day. Kinda crazy, right!?!
Since production with the new company didn't pick back up until September 2018, there just wasn't enough time to prepare for the 2019 Valentine's Day season.
Here's the kicker and why I said...leave the Sweethearts on the shelf if you can find them this year.
First...thanks to Necco's long standing history with the candy before closing up shop in 2018, "over 80% of the conversation hearts purchased are Sweethearts brand". That means it's very likely that any bag of Sweethearts that you see on the shelf this year is probably SUPER old!
Therefore, if you feel like it's not officially Valentine's Day season without your Sweethearts conversation candy (and you just have to have them), please make sure to double/triple check the expiration date.
Secondly...and more importantly...the Sweethearts that you will possibly find on the shelfs this year were also (more than likely) produced in a factory that the FDA found to be "insanitary." (And that's me putting it nicely.)
Of course, I dug up a copy of the May 2018 official FDA Warning Letter written to the CEO of Necco that he would have received days before the company was sold at auction. Here is an excerpt...
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspected your candy manufacturing facility located at 135 American Legion Highway, Revere, MA from November 13, 2017 through December 14, 2017. That inspection revealed serious violations of the Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food regulation, Title 21, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 117 (21 CFR 117) (CGMP & PC Rule). The violations included significant evidence of rodent activity and insanitary conditions throughout your facility. Additionally, during this inspection FDA collected three samples that documented rodent evidence throughout the facility. Based on these analyses and findings, we have determined that your candy products are adulterated within the meaning of section 402(a)(4) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act), 21 U.S.C. § 342(a)(4), in that they have been prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby they may have been rendered injurious to health.
Yeah...so as I said...leave the bag on the shelf! Just wait until 2020 when the hearts that you know and love are being produced in presumably a cleaner environment.
Oh...I almost forgot to mention that part of the story.
The Spangler Chairman and CEO Kirk Vashaw confirmed that the conversation hearts would return to stores in the 2020 Valentine's Day season. So, the good news is that we don't have to put the conversation hearts on the "gone forever" list with Blockbuster and Toys"R"Us. It's more like we are taking an extra long break, similar to how Netflix does us with Stranger Things. It may feel like forever, but it will return before you know it!
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About the AuthorCydni N. Mitchell (aka Cyd) is the bakery and Sweet Business Coach behind Sweet Fest®. Based in Atlanta, GA, Sweet Fest® is an online company that supports the business needs of the Sweet Community in the areas of professional development, marketing and branding. By trade, Cyd is an accountant & financial analyst with a Masters from the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is also the organizer of The Ultimate Sugar Show, a baking and sweets trade show in Atlanta, GA, and she is the Co-Founder of the Sugar Coin Academy, an online business academy for business owners in the baking and sweets industry. Learn more.
- Here's Why You Won't See Sweetheart Conversation Hearts This Valentine's Day
- Conversation Hearts Dethroned As SweetHearts Sit This One Out
- New England Confectionery Company (NECCO), A Local Legacy
- Necco is sold for $18.8 million at bankruptcy auction
- Official Spangler Candy Company website
- Official U.S. Food and Drug Administration Warning Letter to NECCO's CEO