In May 2017, the New England Confectionery Company announced that the industrial park sheltering its headquarters and manufacturing facility would be sold to real estate moguls Atlantic Management and VMD Companies for $54 million dollars. Less than a year later, NECCO announced it would be shuttering its doors for good if a buyer could not be found for the company and that layoffs could begin as soon as this May.
New England Confectionery Company Announces Its Closing
New England Confectionery Company
The company has produced candy faithfully for more than a century, having been founded in name in 1901. Among the company’s eclectic mix of varied sweets, possibly the most well-known is NECCO’s Sweethearts Conversation Hearts. The chalky, colorful hearts, emblazoned with such romantic snippets as “Be Mine” or “Kiss Me,” wedged themselves firmly as a staple in Valentine’s Day candy rotations. Almost 8 billion Sweethearts are manufactured every year by the Boston-based confectioner. The affectionate sweets have made appearances across pop culture, including the Disney short Mickey’s Steam Roller, the literary classic Anne of Green Gables, and a 1993 episode of The Simpsons.
Despite their unrivaled ubiquity for decades and decades, no one actually seems to like Sweethearts. It could be their chalky consistency or the odd flavor choices or even the fact that Valentine’s Day just produces a dizzying variety of tastier candies. Nonetheless, Sweethearts fly off the shelves as a hallmark of the season.
Another NECCO flagship product is also flying off the shelves right now: the Necco wafer. When the candy conglomerate announced its impending closure, folks clamored to purchase the wafers, thanking the pantheon of candy deities for the wafers’ insane shelf life to keep their prizes (and thus their memories) edible as long as possible.
The Wafer Itself
A roll of Necco wafers includes an odd assortment of flavors, colored accordingly to help consumers keep the different tastes from running together: lemon (yellow), lime (green), orange, clove (purple), cinnamon (white), wintergreen mint (pink), licorice (black), and chocolate (brown). Call me biased, but I am sure that whoever decided that clove needed a home in a roll of candy wafers alongside lime and chocolate is singlehandedly responsible for NECCO’s closing. The manufacturers have tried to introduce several variations on their classic eight-piece roll, including a Tropical roll with banana and coconut, an all-chocolate roll, and a Sour wafer roll featuring “Wildberry Grape,” sour apple, and blue raspberry.
Each sugary circle is stamped, off-center, with the manufacturer’s name. Nothing except a fine dust separates each wafer from the next in the tube, allowing the flavors to mingle almost imperceptibly from top to bottom. The candies shatter when you bite into them and melt into the crevices of your back teeth until they dissolve away into that all-too-familiar aftertaste.
Flashbacks Over Flavor
The loss of the Necco wafer is an emotional one. As with the Sweethearts, Necco wafers are more of a memory than a sweet treat that people are going to want to scarf down during a blockbuster film or munch mindlessly when the sweet tooth calls. The wafers call back to something grander than just pieces of candy. For me, the Necco wafer tastes like Christmastime. Every Christmas, for as long as I can remember, my father’s side of the family would get together, the gathering always ending in a candy swap that grows bigger and bigger every year. Without fail, a bag of Necco wafers makes its way into the pile and the siren song of the Necco wafer is always too much to resist, no matter how indistinguishable the licorice wafer from the chocolate.
The delicate tearing of the wax-paper wrapping. The crisp, chalky snap. The inevitable accidental pairing of a cinnamon and wintergreen wafer. The loss of the Necco wafer is not the inevitable disappearance of a confectionery juggernaut. The loss of the Necco wafer is an artifact of nostalgia come to the end of its line.
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