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Candy Hearts Bear Sweet Thoughts Popular Valentine’s Day Treat Hasn’t Changed Much Over Several Generations

Richard Lorant Associated Press

Roses are red. Violets are blue. The hearts taste the same. Just the sayings are new.

Change is in the sugar-dusted air where little candy hearts have rolled off the same machines every Valentine’s Day for generations.

This year, messages like “E-Mail Me” and “Page Me” have joined sweet standbys like “Be Mine” on the pastel-colored hearts, while “Hot Stuff” has gone the way of “Groovy” and other outdated catch phrases.

Adding new sayings and dropping old ones is a haphazard practice at the New England Confectionery Co., where century-old machines stamp out Sweethearts Conversation Hearts and Necco Wafers.

“There’s nothing formal. This is not rocket science here. It’s fun,” said Walter J. Marshall, a vice president of the company.

There are only a few rules, Marshall said. The mottoes have to be G-rated and they must be short enough to fit on the coin-sized hearts.

Marshall collected ideas from co-workers, customers and anyone else who wanted to weigh in before choosing this year’s slogans. The six new entries were inspired by everyone from Jerry Seinfeld (“I Don’t Think So”) to Marshall’s grandson Joshua (“Awesome”).

The new lines among the 125 phrases stamped on the hearts in red dye also include “Excuse Me” and “Hello.” Some of the banished phrases: “Buzz Off,” “Stop,” “Try Me,” “Bad Boy” and “Say Yes.”

Conversation hearts were developed by Necco in 1902. Some 10 billion will make their way into people’s hands by Valentine’s Day, four-fifths of them made by Necco.

The hearts are relative newcomers next to Necco Wafers, which have been on the market for 150 years.

Made of sugar, gums and flavoring, the chalky discs have remained virtually unchanged since they first were stamped out by Necco founder Oliver Chase in 1847.

Necco wafers accompanied Admiral Richard Byrd to the South Pole and landed with U.S. troops in World War II. Over the years, the company says, they have been used as bull’s eyes, poker chips, checkers and practice hosts for a first communion.

The wafers and hearts enabled Necco to stave off bankruptcy and remain a stable midget among giants in the $19 billion candy industry.

In 1963, a New York-based holding company, UIS Inc., bought Necco and trimmed labor costs by refurbishing its old machinery. Necco returned to profitability in 1972. The company also revived the Conversation Hearts, which had been discontinued in the 1950s.

Necco said it sells 4 billion wafers a year without advertising; they account for 30 percent of its $80 million in annual revenues.

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