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Necco's iconic Sweethearts show their sassy side

The New England Confectionary Co.’s bite-sized candy hearts have been a consumer favorite for nearly 150 years for expressing sweet Valentine’s Day sentiments, though they have a sassy side as well.

Privately-held Necco, which is based in the Boston suburb of Revere, Mass., every year adds about 12 to 18 new sayings to its Sweethearts line, the top-selling non-chocolate Valentine’s candy. But themes naturally change with the times. In the 1960s and '70s, for example, the company channeled the Beatles, Sonny and Cher, and Frank Sinatra, with Sweethearts proclaiming "Let it Be," "I’ve Got You Babe," and “My Way.”

This year Necco nodded toward Twitter and Occupy Wall Street with  "#LOVE” "TXT Me" and “Occupy My 3>”

"We are trying to keep them relevant,” said Necco marketing coordinator Brian Chalifour, who is part of the team that came up with the new Sweathearts sayings. "We involve lots of different people in the company of differing ages. There's a a lot of Googling going on, a lot of Urban Dictionary."

Coming up with pithy, topical sayings isn't easy. There is only space on the candy to fit eight characters on top and seven on the bottom.   

"We like to have a couple of throwbacks," Chalifour said, adding that one of them was "Let's Read," a geeky saying from the 1970s.

Every year, Necco makes about 8 billion of the miniature proclamations of romantic intent, most of which are sold between January 1 and Valentine’s Day.  If its annual Sweetheart production were lined up together, it would stretch from New York to Los Angeles and back again -- some 5,924 miles,  according to  Necco.

The company, which began making Sweethearts in 1866, certainly generates plenty of tasty profits. The National Confectioners Association expects Americans to spend more than $1.05 billion on Valentine’s Day sweets this year, an increase of 1.9 percent over last year. It is the industry’s fourth-biggest selling  season behind Halloween, Easter and the December holidays.

For this Valentine's Day, kids also can get in on the fun. Necco is selling “Sweethearts” in black-and-white boxes to allow them to design their own package of the candy to give to the Valentine of their choice. Grand prize winners in each of the 5-to-7-, 8-to-10- and 11-to-12-year old categories will be awarded a $1,000 savings bond and the opportunity for their sayings to appear on a Sweetheart candy for next Valentine’s Day. The contest runs through March 1.

After everyone gets their Valentine’s treats, Necco won’t have time to rest on its laurels. Production for next year’s celebration begins Feb. 15.

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