Conversation hearts, Valentine's Day classic, make up multimillion-dollar market

$22 million of conversation hearts were sold last year, a Brach’s executive says

Conversation hearts have been a traditional Valentine's Day treat for decades.

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The heart-shaped candy with messages including "Hug Me" and "Be Mine" was first invented by Daniel Chase in the 1860s at the New England Confectionery Company (Necco), according to Spangler, the current owner of "Sweethearts."

Today, there are numerous varieties of conversation hearts beyond the traditional chalky candy, including tangy Sweetart conversation hearts, Lifesaver Gummies "Message Hearts and Rings," and Sour Patch conversation hearts.

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According to Spangler, Necco created the "Sweethearts" brand in 1902 and by the 1990s, the company started changing the saying on its hearts -- starting with "Fax Me" at the time.

"Following this notable effort, each year Sweethearts receives hundreds of suggestions from romantics, candy lovers and school kids," Spanger says on its website. "From old tech, 'Call Me' to new tech, 'Text Me,' Sweethearts phrases have reflected eras throughout history."

However, by the 1960s, Necco wasn't the only company making conversation hearts. Around that time, Brach's Candy started making the hearts as well, according to Peter Goldman, vice president of Seasonal and Brach's Confections at Ferrara.

"We actually started producing them as long ago as about probably 55 to 60 years," Goldman told FOX Business. "There were a few gaps in between, but we've had a pretty good run here lately."

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Goldman added that Brach's has been the leading seller of conversation hearts for several years.

"Last year, over $22 million of conversation hearts were sold in the marketplace," Goldman said. "We were fortunate enough last year to have a 90-share of that, making us clearly the dominant player."

However, that was helped by the fact that one of Brach's main conversation heart competitors -- Sweethearts -- wasn't on shelves last year.

In 2018, Necco went bankrupt and the Sweetheart brand was bought by Spangler, which makes Dum-dum candy. According to Spangler's website, the company didn't have time to produce Sweethearts before Valentine's Day 2019.

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This year, Spangler was able to get "limited quantities" of Sweethearts in stores, but said on its website that "the journey back included a few bumps in the road," including more hearts without messages than normal.

Meanwhile, Brach's produces between 6.5 and 7 million pounds of "Tiny Conversation Hearts" per year -- or more than 2 billion individual hearts.

"If you laid them all out end to end, it would cover something like a 150-acre park," Goldman said.

Like Necco used to, Brach's also updates the phrases on its conversation hearts. According to Goldman, the phrases get updated every year. This year, there are 34 phrases on the traditional "Tiny Conversation Hearts."

"We're always looking at the grouping of sayings that we have and we constantly try and bring new sayings to the product," Goldman said. "They get inspired by pop culture, by social media."

This year, Brach's released a new product, "Heart 2 Heart," which has a phrase on either side of a piece of candy, unlike its traditional "Tiny Conversation Hearts." (Brach's Candy)

Brach's has also released a new product this year, "Heart 2 Heart," which has 35 of its own phrases on both sides of each piece of candy. Unlike traditional conversation hearts, which are engraved with a laser, "Heart 2 Heart" candies are made with a mold.

"Because that's newer for us, of course they might feel a little more modern, but the answer is both our traditional and our 'Heart 2 Heart' get updated sayings annually."

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