Let’s all take a moment of silence for NECCO.
Well, to be fair the company may have one last resurrection in it, as reports show that it was sold to an unnamed confectionery manufacturer. And it remains to be seen what will happen to the NECCO brands.
But seeing as how the factory was shut down, and the website is gone, things aren’t looking so good.
There’s a saying that if you can’t be a good example, be a warning. And sadly, NECCO has become a warning for confectionery companies. Even iconic brands aren’t safe. I mean, it was literally the oldest candy company in America, dating back to 1847, and that wasn’t enough to protect it.
Most people think of the Sweethearts Conversation Hearts when they hear NECCO, as they fondly remember getting a “CUTIE PIE” or “BE MINE” from that cute guy in third grade. Or maybe their brain goes to the Necco wafers and the nostalgia they hold.
But the first thing I think of is the Sweetheart Mints, which came out with a few years ago (No. 22 on this list), because I was their exact target market. They came in a super cute pink and black tin, featured an inspirational message, and there was even a mirror inside to check your lipstick. I bought them every time I saw them in a store, but the tin always jammed shut and the mints weren’t really strong enough.
I’m sure there were a lot of mistakes behind the scenes at NECCO that we’ll never really know the truth about. But as an outsider, it seems like they made the same mistakes everyone else does when things go bad — cut marketing, cut product innovation and cut corners. Short-term solutions that only hastened NECCO’s end.
So what should candymakers take from this story? Well, first, nostalgia alone is not enough to sustain a brand. Consumer tastes have changed, and brands need to respond accordingly.
Yes, NECCO had other brands, such as Mary Jane, Clark Bars and the Sky Bar. But Mary Jane was introduced in 1914, Clark Bars came out in 1917, and Sky Bar was launched in 1938. The youngest one among them was an octogenarian. They also had Haviland Thin Mints, which I couldn’t find a launch date for, but they look like they at least date back to the 1960s. Old enough to have grandkids.
Innovation for the sake of it isn’t good enough, though — as those Sweetheart Mints clearly show. It may seem like the right thing to do to cut corners in the short-term, but brands that began more than 100 years ago should know that it’s the long-term that matters.
The horizon is filled with lots of hurdles for candy companies as they struggle to find the right online strategy, appeal to Millennial and Gen Z consumers and combat the war on sugar. There’s no doubt there will be other casualties along the way. Staying alive, then, depends on never getting too comfortable — even if you’re an icon.