Hey, Cutie Pie

Boxes of Sweethearts have made it to store shelves in time for Valentine’s Day.

A northwest Ohio company best known for its Dum Dums lollipops is about to find out whether a year’s absence made hearts grow fonder for the pastel-colored, heart-shaped candies it makes with friendly messages stamped on them.

Bryan-based Spangler Candy Co. brought back Sweethearts this year after buying the brand for an undisclosed price from Round Hill Investments, a Metropoulos family investment group in Greenwich, Connecticut.

“We’re beyond excited to bring Sweethearts back this year in limited quantities,” Diana Moore Eschhofen, a Spangler spokeswoman, said in an email.

“Even though we knew we wouldn’t be able to meet all the consumer demand for 2020, we’re committed to moving forward to avoid another year without Sweethearts on the store shelves.”

New England Confectionary Co. had produced Sweethearts and NECCO wafers for years, but sold the brands to Round Hill at auction for $17.3 million after filing bankruptcy.

“In 2018 Sweethearts were in danger of disappearing forever when their owner went bankrupt,” Spangler said of the brand on its website. “As a century-old candy maker, Spangler knew how important Sweethearts were to the Valentine season.

“Spangler acquired the brand that year but not in time to make Sweethearts for Valentine’s 2019. Sweethearts were missed by thousands of fans and the news of their absence was covered by hundreds of media outlets.”

Conversation hearts had been growing in popularity for 10 years and CandyStore.com’s annual data on Valentine’s Day candy sales showed them outselling heart-shaped boxes of chocolates in 2017 and 2018. But, conversation hearts fell behind the chocolates last year without Sweethearts sales.

There is plenty of money to be made with candy this time of year. The National Retail Federation projects shoppers will spend $27.4 billion celebrating the Feb. 14 holiday, up 32% from $20.7 billion in 2019.

A little more than half of those shoppers will give their Valentines candy, spending about $2.4 billion on the sweets. By comparison, 37% of shoppers will celebrate the holiday with flowers, a spending category expected to generate sales of $2.3 billion.

Reviving Sweetheart Conversation Hearts in time for the holiday this year was not easy. “It has been an adventure to get these favorite Valentine candies back in production,” Eschhofen said.

Spangler spent a year carefully dismantling, packing, and relocating 60 truckloads of equipment required for Sweethearts production from a plant NECCO had shut down in Revere, Massassachusetts. It used a crane to lift the largest pieces out of the plant through its roof.

“Spangler was able to return Sweethearts to store shelves in limited quantities after a major effort to relocate and rebuild the production equipment, find the original recipe and return classic flavors to the mix like wintergreen and banana,” the company said on its website.

“The journey back included a few bumps in the road. The old printing equipment was not reliable so Spangler invested in a new printer, but it was accidentally damaged during production. The result was a few more ‘silent’ hearts than usual.”

NECCO was founded by Oliver Chase, whose brother, Daniel, had started printing pithy messages on candy hearts during the 1860s. Fans of the candies started sharing them at weddings and parties.

Daniel invented a machine, which pressed a felt roller pad he had moistened with red vegetable coloring against a printing dye to stamp messages on the candy hearts. With it, NECCO launched the Sweethearts brand in 1902.

Some of the original sayings, such as “Be Mine,” “Be True” and “Kiss Me” endured through the decades and are on today’s Sweethearts.

Eventually, some of the sayings became outdated enough to drop and NECCO began periodic updates of the messages during the 1990s, retiring some of them while adding new ones.

“From old tech, ‘call me’ to new tech, ‘text me,’ Sweethearts phrases have reflected eras throughout history,” Spangler’s website said.

“Today’s phrases reflect some of the favorite sayings from years gone by and we’re eager to create new favorites with you!”

The company about 50 miles northeast of Fort Wayne already has received hundreds of suggestions for new Sweethearts sayings, it said, from romantics, students and candy lovers.

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