Frenzied fans swamp ‘candy man’ with Necco orders

Another tulip bulb bubble? Photo by Mike Mozart via flickr

PITTSBURGH — Jon Prince describes Necco Wafers as “a polarizing candy.”

“I haven’t heard one person say, ‘I kind of like Necco Wafers,’” noted Prince, the president of wholesaler in McKeesport, Pa. “A person either loves them or hates them.”

Apparently, there are lots of people who love them.

A buying frenzy for the iconic chalky flavored disks launched last week after the The New England Confectionery Company Factory, which has been around since 1847, announced it would close down shop in May if it could not find a buyer.

Since then, Prince, whose family has been in the candy business for more than 90 years, has been getting so many calls and orders for Necco Wafers that he has had to put a limit on the quantity of a single transaction; as of press time, no one is permitted to purchase more than 48 rolls of the candy at a time.

But that doesn’t mean that the candy-lovers are not trying to find creative ways around the rules.

“People are begging,” Prince said. “They are offering to pay extra, or to barter. One lady told me she’s send me homemade chocolate chip cookies for year.”

Another customer offered to trade his Omega luxury watch for extra Neccos, although Prince thinks that gentleman may have been joking.

Either way, “people are pretty desperate,” said Prince. “I had one person from Florida who wanted to buy my entire inventory of Necco Wafers.”

In addition to Necco Wafers, the candy company also produces several other varieties of confections, including Mary Janes, Sky Bars and Clark Bars. The Clark Bar, which boasts a crispy peanut butter center surrounded by milk chocolate, had its origins in Pittsburgh in 1917. The company was purchased by Necco in 1999.

Prince is seeing a rush on Clark Bars as well as the Necco Wafers, he said, noting that he “has sold more Clark Bars in the last two days than I did in the last six months.”

It’s the psychology behind the prospect of losing access to the candy rather than the candy itself that is driving the buying frenzy, according to Prince, who believes his company was one of the first wholesalers in the nation to offer Neccos.

“There’s a Jewish analogy,” he said, explaining that just as “people will buy those retro JNF pushke boxes on eBay for lots of money — while almost any vehicle can be used as a tzedakah box — the product represents something more than what it is.”

For Necco buyers, that “something” could be a piece of nostalgia.

“The candy has been around since 1847,” explained Prince, who puts himself in the category of someone who loves Necco Wafers. “My father enjoyed them. My grandfather probably enjoyed them. We’re living in a time where change is happening more rapidly than ever, and when you take something that’s part of the American candy landscape away with a snap of a finger, you wonder what else can disappear.”

The fate of the Necco continues to be unknown, at least for now. Calls to the company for a status update remain unanswered, according to Prince.

Toby Tabachnick is a senior writer for the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.





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