Sweethearts, the conversation heart candy, is back on shelves for Valentine's Day after missing a year because of a change in its ownership.
But consumers might notice a few changes — fewer pithy sayings and a slightly different taste — and they won't be quite as ubiquitous.
Sweethearts' original producer, New England Confectionary Company, went out of business in 2018. Round Hill Investments, which bought Twinkie-maker Hostess while it was in bankruptcy proceedings, purchased the bankrupt candy maker at auction but sold its Necco wafer brand and Sweethearts to Spangler Candy several months later. Spangler's best-known candy is its Dum Dum lollipops.
Because the candy company acquired the brands in the fall of 2018, it was unable to produce Sweethearts in time for Valentine's Day just a few months later even though it was the most popular candy for the holiday in 2018.
"It became really apparent to us how much people were going to miss them," Spangler spokeswoman Diana Moore Eschhofen said.
The long-moving process for transferring the Sweethearts' equipment from Necco's shuttered factory in Revere, Massachusetts, into another plant resulted in the delay, she said. Sixty truckloads of equipment had to be carefully dismantled, packed up and moved. Some larger pieces needed to be lifted out through the roof with a crane.
The entire moving process took about a year, according to Eschhofen. And those challenges are still putting pressure on Spangler's ability to deliver the candy hearts this year.
"Based on consumer response and the technical challenges, we are not going to be able to meet all of the consumer demand for 2020," she said.
The best place to find Sweethearts for Valentine's Day will be nationwide drugstores like CVS and Walgreens, according to Eschhofen. Some regional stores may also carry them, but they will be in limited supply. The goal for 2021 is to return to Sweethearts' normal production capacity.
The equipment also caused another headache for Spangler. The printer that Sweethearts used to press sayings like "you rock" and "love me" on the hearts was unreliable. The company decided to invest in a new printer, but the replacement printing equipment was damaged during production, and Spangler could not get it fixed completely.
For consumers, that means more conversation hearts than usual will be silent.
"We know that's disappointing, but it's a disappointment for us, too," Eschhofen said.
Although fewer Sweethearts will come with the sayings that they are known for, Spangler is bringing the candy back to its roots by reviving the original recipe. The company located the formula buried in paperwork. Necco had tweaked the recipe over the years in an attempt to modernize the 118-year-old candy. The change brings back flavors such as banana and wintergreen.