Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Necco Conversation Hearts (Sweethearts) 2010
As we’re in the middle of Candy Season one of my favorite things to do after a holiday is to see what’s on sale from the previous holiday and glance at the early merchandise on the shelves for the next one. The Epiphany usually marks the emergence of Valentine’s Day candy. I scour the aisles looking for something new. So when I saw the new packaging for Necco Sweethearts I thought they’d expanded their line. They have been offering an all-chocolate version, Spanish language version and lately a Tart version. I thought this new fruity array was an addition.
I bought them but didn’t open them, just tossing them on my pile for review. Then the comments started trickling in from readers, who were finding my old review and weighing in on the changes. It appears that it’s a complete replacement for the classic Necco Sweethearts (see my review of them in 2008).
There are so many things wrong. Let me start on the front of the package.
The Official Candy of Love
Does Love have a governing board that can decide these things, like the Olympic Committee? No, no it does not. Love, Freedom, Justice and Anger ... these concepts and emotions are boundless and cannot have anything official about them. Invoking any sort of official in association with them is false advertising. Love does not do endorsements. (Unless Necco would like to step forward and show me their contracts with Love.)
New Package Design
I actually like it. It’s bold but still soft and, yeah, a bit feminine and childish. At first I though the colors of the hearts were a little too vivid, but after seeing the actual candies inside, I’m setting that aside. The choice of Love Bug as the statement on the featured heart is a bit odd.
It’s marked in a black stamp there in the upper right corner, 99 cents and the package holds 7 ounces. Can’t really beat that, especially when the little boxes are usually selling for 50 cents for one ounce (though sometimes on for as little as 20 cents each). Not terribly attractive but kind of makes me nostalgic for the time before bar codes.
Lack of Branding
The front of the package does not bear the name of the maker. The name Necco isn’t actually on the package anywhere ... just New England Confectionery Company under the nutrition facts panel (followed by the web address of http://www.necco.com). The previous years’ packaging does have Necco and its logo featured prominently both on the front and the back of the packages.
It’s January 13, so a little more than a month before Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s candy has been in stores for at least a week. On the back of the package is says for baking, gifting, craft ideas and more visit mysweethearts.com. You know what’s on that page as I write this? It’s a placeholder about some sort of iPhone app. No promised recipes or craft ideas ... not even any mention that would be what I expect to find it there. (See screengrab.)
The New Flavors - Show You Care ... 6 Delicious Ways to Share!
Strawberry, Grape, Green Apple, Lemon, Orange and Blue Raspberry.
I’m not going to break the flavors down one by one. What was nice about Necco Sweethearts was the subtle sweet flavors, nothing exciting, they were simply pleasant.
The new flavors are a blend of sweet and tart. The texture is smoother than the usual compressed dextrose candy like SweeTarts, because this is made with mostly sugar and corn syrup instead of dextrose (which is just a powder form of glucose and has a different mouthfeel).
The citrus flavors are completely artificial with a tangy note that is wholly un-citrus and more like a chemical. The pink ones taste like a combination of lipstick and the old wintergreen ones, which is just a disgusting mix. Grape has as much clove flavor in it as food coloring though the mixture is nearly palatable.
These do not show I care ... these show that I have no regard for my lover or friend’s expectations of what a heart shaped candy should taste like.
It’s as if Necco took all the artificial colors that they aren’t using for their new All Natural Necco Wafers and pouring it all into these improved Necco Sweethearts. Simply put, they’re a mess. (Now, I would’ve been thrilled if the conversation hearts were also going to be all natural, what an awesome innovation that would have been.)
Once I opened the bag I was in trouble. The smell is a blend of Love’s Baby Soft and strawberry candles. And if I were just sniffing the bag, well, yeah, I have to expect that. But this thing made my car smell, they make my office smell. When I’m done with this review they’re going in the trash someplace where I am not.
The one thing they have improved upon was one of my beefs with them previously. They production quality is better. The pieces are well formed and most especially the printing is clear. Sure about a quarter of them aren’t printed square in the center, but they’re still readable.
The sayings are cute. They’re using the heart symbol quite a bit. Hey Baby, Smile, Sweet Love, Dream Big, You Rock, Puppy Love, Meet Me, Love Me, Hug Me, Kiss Me, For Ever, Ask Me, even Marry Me
I’m not saying they shouldn’t make these, someone probably likes them, but they should be an additional product in the line, not a replacement for the iconic original.
UPDATE 1/27/2010: It’s been a few weeks and it seems that the response posted here has been overwhelmingly negative about the flavor change (few have mentioned the new texture).
So I talked to Jackie Hague, the Vice President of Marketing for Necco who navigated this new change (along with the All Natural Necco Wafers, which I fully support). We had a great talk about candy in general (she worked for Mars for 20 years and was responsible for many of the limited edition M&Ms that so many of us have loved over the years).
First, you can still get the classic Necco Sweethearts. The change over was made mid-way through the production schedule. So the first part of the production run was the classic flavors (Banana, Wintergreen, Orange, Cherry, Grape) and then they switched over the ingredients and equipment for the new formula. They are sold at very few stores, basically the discounters: Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Family Dollar , 99 Cent Only, Freds , Odd Lots, Wakefern and Sav A Lot. (The image shown here is the classic flavors on the left that I found at Dollar Tree and the ones on the right are the new flavors/colors - here’s what the package looks like.)
Second, Ms. Hague said that the changes were made based on consumer feedback. The most common requests from folks who wrote or called were for a softer texture and for more intense & modern flavors. Banana was not well liked, apparently yellow is not ordinarily expected to be banana. The texture was introduced first with the Twilight version of Sweethearts (though future versions won’t have Passion Fruit) as well as the tangier, more vibrant flavors.
So the takeaway from this would be, if you don’t like the new flavors, make sure that Necco knows that. Return the product, write to them or call. I wouldn’t expect a whole lot in return (a canned response) but I do think that they log the feedback - it’s in their best interest. (Ms. Hague also said that they’ve assigned more people to help out with the feedback process, so perhaps the responses will be more appropriate instead of a copy/paste FAQ.) Ms. Hague understood my frustration with not just the lack of information but the contrary information provided by the website and candy packages and it’s apparent they’re working on that.
The Necco website’s Sweethearts product page used to say this, “One thing Sweetheart lovers can count on each year is the candy’s simple, familiar formula. The basic recipe has never been changed. Both Sweethearts and the familiar NECCO Wafers use the same batter—sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, gums, coloring and flavoring.” However, they’ve finally updated their websites to reflect this new change and have omitted that statement that they honor the time-tested flavors ... because they were tested by time and after about a hundred years, even as the #1 Valentines candy selling 8 billion hearts a year, they lost. Necco thinks that this new version will appeal to more people, which is possible, but it’s clear it’s not the same people who have been buying them.
Update 2/10/2013: Both versions of Necco’s Conversation Hearts are on store shelves this year. By far the most ubiquitous are the newer fruity version, but I did find the almost-classic “Conversation Hearts” at Walgreen’s. The old ones are called Conversation Hearts, not Sweethearts. I’ve only seen them in the little boxes, only as singles (not in the shrinkwrapped five packs and no bags).
The classic version has white (cinnamon), green (lime), yellow (banana), pink (cherry), purple (grape) and orange (orange). So they’ve eliminated clove and wintergreen. It’s too bad. The texture has returned to the crunchier version. The colors are more vibrant and the printing just as inconsistent.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 8:22 am
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