As It Happens

Necco Wafers reportedly taste like 'drywall' — but fans are stockpiling the retro candy

Rumours that New England Confectionery Company might close its doors after 170 years have caused a frenzy among candy lovers.

Wholesaler Jon Prince says he has been inundated with calls amid rumours production could shut down

Necco Wafers were invented in 1847 and they've been a popular but polarizing treat amongst candy lovers ever since. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

Necco Wafers aren't for everyone.

The chalky little candies come in official flavours like chocolate, licorice, and wintergreen. And unofficially, they've also been described as "plaster surprise" and "stale Tums."

Despite their divisive flavour, the retro confectionery is in high demand.

People are scrambling to stockpile the candies after unconfirmed rumours surfaced that Necco — or, the New England Confectionery Co. — is shutting down after 170 years.

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke Jon Prince is the president of Prince about the candies and what it would mean if the iconic company closed.

Here is part of their conversation.

Jon, first of all, for anyone who hasn't had a Necco Wafer, can you describe what it tastes like?

It's just something that's really hard to put into words. It's kind of like a Lucky Charm that is considerably harder than a Lucky Charm.

Somebody else has said it's like "tropical drywall."

I haven't really tasted a lot of tropical drywall in my days — but I'll take their word for it.

There are two very distinct camps. There's people that love Necco Wafers and there's people that hate Necco Wafers.

The people that hate Necco Wafers are very vehement in their dislike and the people that love Necco Wafers, love them.

Necco Wafers and Sweethearts are two of the most popular products made by the New England Confectionary Company. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

So you are a fan of this "tropical drywall?"

I am. My company has been selling Necco Wafers since 1927. We're probably the oldest distributor of Necco Wafers in the nation. I've been eating them since I was a kid.

I have memories of being young and my father would keep them in the compartment of his car. He would eat a couple and he would share a couple with me.

What do you make of the rumours that the New England Confectionery Company is shutting down and we're not going to have any more Necco Wafers in our world?

I think it's important to keep something in mind — that it's not just Necco Wafers that could potentially disappear.

Necco umbrella has many iconic brands. They have Sky Bars, Clark Bars, Squirrel Nut Zippers — I mean that's just to name a few.

No one knows what the future holds for Necco because Necco hasn't been returning calls.

But as far as we're concerned, we hope they don't go out of business because they represent some of the most iconographic American candies that have ever been created.

What kinds of requests have you had for Necco Wafers?

We've had people offer to purchase our whole inventory.  One person who wanted to buy 100 boxes.

One person I was talking to on the phone, they wanted to buy a very large order. I said, "We have to be fair. We are limiting sales."

Originally we were limiting sales to four units per transaction and now we are down to one because of demand.

So I was joking with the guy and I said, "Well, what type of watch are you wearing?"

He told me what type of watch and he said, "I'll send it to you."

It was a fancy watch, mind you, but I still wouldn't see them more than the allocation.

So I guess people want these pretty desperately?

We're living in an era where change is occurring so quickly — technologically, politically — and I think that when you take a product, a Necco Wafer, that's been around since 1847, this product is so rooted in the collective psyche of candy lovers.

\I think that many of the people that like the product realize that if something that's been around since 1847 can disappear in the blink of an eye — what else is next?

So I think there's a real connection to this product that is beyond just an edible. This is a product that has a real psychological resonance with people that love the product.

When you say 1847, I guess these candies, indestructible as they are, were given to Union soldiers during the Civil War, is that right?

This product was used in the kits that were in the Second World War. That I know for a fact. It's been taken on expeditions because it is a "indestructible calorie."

This is a product that my kids have eaten. I've eaten it. My father's eaten it. My grandfather has eaten it and there's a strong possibility that my great-grandfather has enjoyed it too. There are very few products that can boast that.

Prince says Necco hasn't returned his calls but rumours are circulating that the company is in financial trouble. Unconfirmed reports suggest they will have to close and lay off hundreds of workers if they can't find a buyer by May. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

How likely is it true that the company is shutting its doors and is going to layoff about 500 people?

I don't know the answer to that question. I've put a few calls in myself to Necco and they've not been returned. I have to believe that someone will see the good of these products. If only based on this frenzy to realize that this isn't a product that people want to see disappear.

Written and produced by John McGill. This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.


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