As regular as clockwork, Sweethearts Candies have been a part of your life since your childhood. They appear on store shelves the first weeks in January and disappear right after Valentine’s Day. What has kept this confection America’s best-selling Valentine candy ever since Abraham Lincoln was President?
The first conversation hearts were in the shape of “cockles.” Similar to today’s Chinese fortune cookies, thin colored paper was rolled up inside the sugar and flour candy with sayings such as “Please send a lock of your hair by return mail.”
So, what is a “cockle?” you ask. After all, many people have said a phrase such as “That just warms the cockles of my heart” for years without really knowing. In fact, much of the time the saying is actually followed by “I wonder what a ‘cockle’ is?”
In the 1500s, the chambers of the heart were described as being shell shaped, as those of a mollusk or snail. When a person became emotional, especially with good emotions, and got a faster heartbeat and a warm “fuzzy” feeling inside, the belief was that the cockles, or shell-shaped chambers, of his heart were being warmed. Now you know!
In the 1860s, Daniel Chase, brother of the New England Confectioner Company’s founder, began experimenting with ways to eliminate the papers by putting messages directly onto the candy. He ultimately created a machine with a felt roller pad that would stamp vegetable oil letters (usually red) onto a lozenge paste and then cut the lozenges in heart shapes, larger than those sold today.
Though mainly thought of as children’s candy today, originally it was popular with adults at parties and weddings. The wedding versions had sayings such as “Married in satin, Love will not be lasting,” “Married in Pink, He will take to drink” or “Married in white, You have chosen right.”
At the turn of the century, the New England Confectioner Company began to produce shapes such as postcards, baseballs, horseshoes and watches, as well as the smaller hearts that we are more familiar with today. The smaller hearts soon became the company’s hit product.
Some sayings on the conversation hearts have remained the same since the beginning. However, the company has tried to keep up with the slang of the times. For years after the invention of the telephone, “Call Me” candies were in each box. During the last twenty years though “Fax Me,” and “E-mail Me” made an appearance, only to be replaced by “Text Me” and “Tweet Me.” In total, there will be 80 different sayings on the candies this year. “Dig Me” and “Hep Cat” are no longer included.
“Bite Me” won’t be in the box this year either. The company thought the saying would be popular because it would tie in with the current vampire craze, but numerous complaints that it might have sexual innuendos has caused it to be pulled.
In 2010 the New England Confectionery Company (Necco) went with brighter, bolder colors and new flavors such as strawberry, green apple, lemon, grape, orange and blue raspberry. The candy was softer and new lines were created, including Sugar-Free, Dazzled Tarts, En Español and Chocolate. In October 2011, the company announced that sales declined because of the change and that they would be returning to the original flavors and colors in the future. There are some traditions that just shouldn’t be altered!
Much like Mars M&M’s advertise, Sweethearts Candies can be ordered with your personal sayings on them. The only catch is that you have to buy a full production run of about 1.7 million candy hearts. Not to worry! They will stay fresh for at least five years!
There’s not much respite for Necco. Production for the next year’s Valentine candy hearts begins in late February and continues through mid-January of the following year. Approximately 100,000 pounds of candy are produced each day—and sells out in just six weeks.
Something new for the company is an iphone app that will allow virtual Sweethearts Candies boxes to be sent with personalized messages to someone via their Twitter page. Now all we need is virtual flavor–calorie free!