NECCO Sweethearts have a place in the hearts and minds of the many of Americans, especially around Valentines Day, but most people don't know much about them. So we traveled to the NECCO Factory in Revere, Massachusetts to meet up with Jeff Green, the Vice President of Research and Quality at NECCO, to learn everything there is to know about this iconic candy.
The founder of NECCO, Oliver Chase, and his brother were English immigrants. They loved a popular confection in England known as a "cockle" that had a message inside of it and wanted to create something similar with their own candy. In the early 1860's, Oliver's brother found a way to print on the candy that they were already making (NECCO Wafers) and decided to experiment with different shapes. As Valentine's Day became more popular and marketable, they decided to stick with a heart shape with romantic or popular sayings. The early Sweethearts were larger pieces of candy with whole poems on them.
As they evolved into the Sweethearts we know and love today, the sayings also changed. In the 1890's phrases like "Gay Boy" were popular. In the 50's they had "Hep Cat" and in the 60's it was "Groovy" or "Let's Rock". They do their best to stick with the times so they change out sayings as they become irrelevant. For example in the 90's they had sayings like, "Fax Me" which has since been replaced by "Text Me" and even "Friend Me".
How They're Made
A sugar-heavy mixture of ingredients is poured into a mixer along with coloring until it is evenly mixed. This Play-Doh-like material is then pressed into sheets and printed with sayings through a machine that is similar to an old-fashion printing press. From there a machine punches out the hearts around the sayings. Then the hearts are sent into a dryer for about an hour and are caught in trays where they continue to dry overnight. From there they go back onto conveyor belts and the colors are mixed together. They get sent to the packaging department in 2,000 pound bags where they are then packaged into boxes or bags. Jeff describes it as "Willy Wonka meets Gutenberg".
When you are using an old fashion printing press to print billions of pieces of candy, misprints are inevitable. To avoid accidentally offending customers, they decided to stop printing any words with the letters "-ck". That's why you won't see sayings like "Let's Rock" or "Good Luck" anymore. Jeff jokes, "You don't put "Firetruck" on a Sweetheart.