Remember Valentine’s Day in elementary school? All you really wanted was a piece of crappy chocolate taped to the flimsy Looney Tunes or Lisa Frank card you got? Instead (horror of horrors!) you get Sweethearts. UGH! Who gives Sweethearts!? If I wanted to eat colored chalk I’d just run up to the blackboard and eat the teacher’s generic brand of sedimentary rock! Worst Valentine’s Day EVARR.
(I’m looking at you, girl who sat in front of me in second grade whose name I can’t remember.)
The sad part about all this is that Sweethearts are actually an old, classic candy that, like candy corn, used to be innovative and exciting. They’re a product of New England Confectionary Company, more commonly known as NECCO, America’s oldest multi-line candy company. Oliver Chase, an Englishman residing in Boston, founded NECCO in 1847. Chase invented devices that cut sheets of candy into shaped lozenges as well as a machine that pulverized sugar.
The predecessor of the Sweetheart was cockles. They were nothing like candy we know and love to hate today. A cockle was a small, crisp, fortune-cookieish candy made of sugar and flour that were popular in the mid to late 1800s. They were shaped like scallop (cockle) shells and inside each candy was a thin, colored piece of paper with a motto on it. Since the mottoes were printed on paper, the messages were longer and way more specific. For example, “Please send a lock of your hair by return mail.” Today, that would be creepy.
In the 1860s, Oliver’s brother, Daniel Chase, had the idea to print the words directly onto the candy lozenges. The mottoes were printed on the candy by hand until Daniel realized how freakin’ tedious that was. In 1866, he invented a machine that printed words on the candy in red vegetable dye while simultaneously cutting it.
At the turn of the 20th century, the printed lozenges came in all types of shapes. There were postcards, baseballs, horseshoes, and watches and embossed with curlicues. Like the cockles, the hearts were bigger than today’s candies and could accommodate longer messages. “Please send a lock of your hair by return mail” carried over from the cockles. Another was “How long shall I have to wait? Pray be considerate.” It’s called a grace period, dude.
The hearts became popular at weddings. Their decorative quality and conversational nature made them the perfect little gift for the bride and groom. Some hearts sported prophecies rather than mottoes. Here are some of the choicest ones:
- Married in Pink, He will take to drink.
- Married in white, You have chosen right.
- Married in satin, Love will not be lasting.
The hearts as we know them today came about in 1902. Other shapes had been abandoned in favor of the simple hearts and they shrank in size. Messages got shorter. Some of the classics (and most beloved) have been in circulation since 1902. They include “Kiss Me,” “I’m Yours,” “Be Good,” “Be True,” “Sweet Talk,” and “Be Mine.”
The original basic recipe (same as the one used for NECCO wafers) and method of making remains more or less unchanged since 1902. The dough is comprised of corn syrup, 90% sugar, gelatin, gums, and artificial colors and flavorings.The original color/flavor chart is as follows:
- Pink – Cherry
- Yellow – Banana
- Orange – Orange
- Green – Lemon (huh??)
- Purple – Grape
- White – Wintergreen
- Brown – Chocolate
The ingredients are mixed into a ball and put on a machine that stretches it and rolls it flat. The sheet of dough is cut and printed on using exact replicas of Daniel Chase’s machine with old-fashioned print plates. The letters than can be moved around to form different sayings. Previously, after the dough was printed and cut into hearts, they were left to dry for 2 to 3 days. Now they take about an hour and a half using a special drying belt. Once all the candies are dry, they are poured into a machine called the “rocket launcher” that mixes them all together so the boxes have multiple colors and sayings. The hearts are made in the original plant in Revere, Massachusetts, and supplementary plants in Louisiana and Wisconsin.
Here’s a video that sort of shows the process. The woman doing the segment makes me want to bang my head against the wall, but it’s good info.
Despite NECCO’s desire to stay true to the original hearts, they did a little research and discovered that children like bolder (artificial) flavors. In 2010, they scraped some of the old flavors, like banana, cherry, and wintergreen and introduced yellow lemon, strawberry, green apple, and the ever-imaginary blue raspberry. The colors were brightened as well to give them a little more oomph.
This change did not go over well. People were angry. They missed the candy they knew as children and demanded to have it back. NECCO received emails, phone calls, and letters complaining about the uninvited change. The danger of the situation didn’t hit home for the company until people started Facebook pages about how freakin’ awful the new flavors were (this one has 10 members!!). To placate the masses, NECCO adjusted the 2011 batch and muted the flavors a little, but this time they changed the formula, making the candies softer and chewier.
People are still angry.
The most exciting thing about Sweethearts is the mottoes. The hearts are small, so the sayings have to be short and sweet (see that? I made a really feeble joke!). Generally, the hearts can accommodate 5 letters on the top and 4 on the bottom. The letter “W” is a larger letter, so it decreases the number of letters by one. There are larger hearts that can fit two words with 6 letters but they’re less common. NECCO uses about 80 different sayings a year – 20 new, 30 to 35 older ones, and the rest are a mix of the previous year’s or popular phrases.
The sayings do change. In the 1990s, former NECCO vice president Walter Marshall decided to add 10 new sayings every year, as well as put some to bed. The very first he introduced was the now defunct “Fax Me.” New ones were added that became classics, like “Puppy Love,” “Sweet Love,” “Sweet Pea,” and “Love Me.” There were also mottoes created to suit the times that later got scrapped because they’re outdated. Some good examples are “Dig Me,” “Hep Cat,” and “You Are Gay.” One saying that was disposed of was the smiley face, but it made a triumphant comeback when people requested it.
Creating the mottoes can be tricky because they can’t be offensive, crude, or too long. A motto committee settles on a theme and creates mottoes based on that theme. There was pets (U R A Tiger, Go Fish, Love Bird), Spanish (Te Amo, Mi Novia), and in 2008, weather. Lory Zimbalatti, NECCO’s marketing manager and a member of the committee that chooses new sayings, said they chose “weather” for two reasons. The first was to “highlight the excitement and unpredictability of the day-to-day change of weather and people’s love lives.” (source). The second reason was they try to choose sayings that reflect current interests in culture in America and the weather had been pretty unpredictable that year.
I don’t really understand how the Spanish language is a theme, but that’s just me.
The new phrases for 2009 were food related. There was “Recipe 4 Love,” “Top Chef,” and “Table 4 Two.” The 2011 theme was movement, “Boogie,” “Shake It,” “Hold Hands,” “Move It,” “Rock On, “Go Go Go,” and “U Move Me.” Two new ones in 2012 were “Xoxo” and “Wink Wink.” The epic list of Sweethearts sayings from 1998 – 2009 is listed at the bottom of this post. I couldn’t find a comprehensive list for 2011 and 2012, but believe me; it wasn’t for lack of trying.
NECCO didn’t stop selling the hearts after Valentine’s Day in 2009. They launched a veteran support line called Red, White, and You in strawberry, blueberry, and vanilla. They featured sayings like “Proud of U,” “Home Safe,” “Brave,” “Valor,” “I <3 USA,” and “Miss You.” The line was launched on Memorial Day and boxes were sent in care packages to overseas soldiers in partnership with the United Service Organizations, Inc.
NECCO also adjusted their sayings in March and released Twilight themed Sweethearts to go along with the March 21st DVD release of the new movie.
Breathe it in, folks. Let your very soul absorb that information. Twilight themed Sweethearts.
NOTE: I love Twilight, but I love it for all the wrong reasons. I’ve never read the books, but I’ve seen the movies. They make me laugh. This information brings me glee unlike anything I’ve ever known. I’m Team LOL.
They came with a whole new set of phrases:
- Lion Lamb
- I <3 EC
- Bite Me
- Live 4 Ever
- Trust Me
- I Trust You
- I Love You
- B My Blla
- Stop Jake (um…)
- B My Edwd
- URMY Life
The Forbidden Fruit Sweethearts (Twilight) were actually the first Sweethearts to use the updated formula. They had the softer texture and bolder flavors before normal Sweethearts. The flavors were things like Passion Fruit, Tempting Apple, Orange Obsession, and Secret Strawberry. Not only that, but some of them sparkled in the sun. Not Bella’s pink and bright red hearts, only Edward’s purple and orange. They were dusted with an approved edible form of mica. The box? Strawberry scented with three different collectable images.
Someone hold me.
NECCO also released Fire and Ice Sweethearts (New Moon). These Sweethearts were split into two different types: Ice and Fire. Guess who was on the Ice box and guess who was on the Fire box? Edward and shirtless Jacob, respectively. In case anyone doesn’t get the connection, vampires have no body heat (since they’re, ya know, dead) and werewolves have an elevated body heat.
Sweethearts Ice contained two flavors: Raspberry Freezeout and Lime FrostBite. And yes, they sparkled. The box says Intense Wave of Cold on the front. The sayings were similar to the year before, with “I <3 ED,” “Bite Me,” “Dazzle,” and “Live 4 Ever.”
Sweethearts Fire also had two flavors: Steamy Chocolate and Hotter Than Apple Pie. Both are pink, but one is bright and the other is pale. That box said Intense Surge of Heat on it’s front and had sayings like “Wolf Man,” “Save Me,” “Jacob,” and “Howl.”
All of the giggles.
In 2010 they released an Eclipse set (minus “Bite Me” since it was too sexually suggestive). There’s very little information out there, but I did find them on eBay and one solitary review. The review says the new flavors were Tangerine Tangle, Boysenberry Bite, Midnight Melon, and Jacob Black Cherry (what is that?). Sayings were the usual: “Dazzle,” “Treaty,” “Tribe,” “Vamp Army,” “Live 4 Ever,” “Were Wolf,” “Howl,” and “Team Jacob.”
Apparently they didn’t do well because according to questions posted all over the Internetz, people had difficulty finding them. The idea must have been scrapped altogether for Breaking Dawn. I wish there had been Breaking Dawn Sweethearts. “DEMON SPWN,” “VILNT DTH,” and “LOLOL” would have been my suggestions.
In 2011, NECCO made Dazzled Tarts Sweethearts, the “Sparkliest, Tart-Sweetest Candy Ever!” They featured some darker colors (muted orange, blue, and something that looks like concrete), different flavors (Pink Lemonade, Wild Berry Grape, Sour Apple, Extreme Tangerine, Watermelon, Blue Raspberry), fabulous sayings (Chicks Rule, Fab, Glam, Love, Cheer, a pair of lips and a flip flop), and Edward’s sparkles.
For the first time in 2010, NECCO invited the public to share their motto suggestions. They got over 10,000 submissions and chose the most popular – “Tweet Me,” “Text Me,” “You Rock,” “Me + You,” “Soul Mate,” and “Love Bug.” They also got some weird suggestions like “Love Bacon,” “Justin Bieber,” “The Situation,” and “Beef Burrito.”
I think “Beef Burrito” would have been an instant classic.
There were also personalized suggestions, for example “You Rock Amber” (because everyone knows who Amber is). And, of course, there are the break-up sayings, such as “Get A Pre-Nup” and “Call My Lawyer.”
But let’s be honest. The most popular is “Marry Me.” People call up the company to request bags of them for proposals and NECCO is happy to oblige. They’ll also do the same thing for certain colors or flavors. If they get a call saying someone didn’t receive enough blue hearts or enough lemon flavored hearts, they happily send along an entire bag of just those hearts.
If you want personalized or discontinued sayings, you’d better be prepared to order a full production run. That equals about 1.7 million hearts or 3,500 pounds of candy. That wouldn’t be terrible since they never expire, but if you don’t want that many but really want personalized ones, just follow this guide and make your own.
These days, Sweethearts make up 40% of the Valentine’s Day candy market, second behind chocolate, collectively. When it comes to brands, Sweethearts sell more than an individual chocolate brand. Including Cadbury’s. Which is crazy because OMG MINI EGGS.
The hearts are made 11 months out of the year, specifically between late February to mid-January of the following year. They make about 14 million pounds of Sweethearts a year, which is somewhere between 4.8 and 6.7 billion individual hearts. During the six weeks before Valentines day 100,000 pounds of candy is sold. Except for that one time when they did TWILIGHT THEMED SWEETHEARTS.
The main market for Sweethearts are classrooms, particularly around Valentine’s Day (my bitterness cup runneth over) and older people for nostalgic reasons (until they changed the flavor and formula and then those people got really angry). According to NECCO’s website, hearts have been used not only to propose, but to decorate cakes, make borders for frames, and teach children reading and statistics.
Here are some fun facts, direct from NECCO:
- Since the turn of the 20th century, more than 250 billion Sweethearts have rolled off the NECCO production lines.
- If you placed the annual production of Sweethearts Conversation Hearts back to back across the United States they would stretch from New York to Los Angeles and back again. That equals 5,924 miles!
- Since 1981, Hispanic Sweethearts Conversation Hearts have been available within large Hispanic communities in the United States. In 2002, NECCO launched them nationwide.
- Each year, JEOPARDY! includes a Sweethearts Conversation Hearts trivia question on its show in celebration of Valentine’s Day.
Also completely relevant:
Have I ever mentioned how much I love Japan?
Keep eating and asking, my friends.
XOXO, WINK WINK
2011: Get Moving
BOOGIE, SHAKE IT, HOLD HANDS, U MOVE ME, MOVE IT, ROCK ON, GO GO GO,
TWEET ME, TEXT ME, YOU ROCK, SOUL MATE, LOVE BUG, ME + YOU, PUPPY LOVE, SWEET LOVE, SWEET PEA, LOVE ME
2009: A Menu of Love
RECIPE 4 LOVE, TABLE 4 TWO, STIR MY HEART, MY TREAT, TOP CHEF, SUGAR PIE, SWEET LOVE, HONEY BUN, SPICE IT UP, YUM YUM
2008: Love’s in the Forecast
MELT MY ♥, IN A FOG, CHILL OUT, CLOUD NINE, HEAT WAVE, SUN SHINE, GET MY DRIFT, WILD LIFE, NATURE LOVER, DO GOOD
2007: Animal Attraction
COOL CAT, PUPPY LOVE, TAKE A WALK, MY PET, BEAR HUG, TOP DOG, URA TIGER, GO FISH, LOVE BIRD, PURR FECT
2006: Home and Family
TO AND ILU, HOUSE PARTY, HOME RUN, CALL HOME, SWEET HOME, GO HOME, HOME SOON, HOME SICK
2005: The Game of Love #1 FAN, DREAM TEAM, FIT FOR LOVE, LOVE LIFE, BE A SPORT, LOVE MY TEAM, CHEER ME ON, BE MY HERO, HEART OF GOLD, ALL-STAR
2004: Happily Ever After
3 WISHES, EVER AFTER, NEW YOU, MAGICNEW, LOVE DREAM, CHARM ME, START NOW, IM ME, I LOVE YOU
2003: Love Lessons
WRITE ME, CLASS ACT, WHIZ KID, WISE UP, TEACH ME, LOVE LETTER, PEN PAL, BOOK CLUB, SCHOOL MATE, LET’S READ
2002: Fashion Forward
LOOK GOOD, IN STYLE, VOGUE, TRES CHIC, DRESS UP, DIVA, WHAT’S UP, URA QT, THAT SMILE, TWO HEARTS
2001: Limitless Love
LOVE, 2001 ODYSSEY, MOON BEAM, UR A STAR, VENUS, STAR DUST, RISING STAR, YOU & ME, TOO SWEET, THANK YOU
2000: Celebrating the Millennium
AMORE, ROMEO, ANGEL, SWING TIME, IN THE MOOD, MUCH ADO, 2000 HUGS, 2000 KISSES, GOT LOVE, GIRL POWER, TIME OUT, PEACE SYMBOL
1999: Now and Then
YOU ROCK, LET’S DO LUNCH, I WONDER, 1-800 CUPID, AS IF, LOVE ME, TENDER, MY WAY, I GOT U BABE, LET IT BE, WALK ON BY
1998: Hi-Tech Hearts
YOU GO, GIRL, YEAH RIGHT, WWW.CUPID, BE MY ICON, EMAIL ME, FAX ME, PAGE ME, TIME OUT, NO WAY, COOL DUDE
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