Impending demise of an icon

By Bill Taylor

It seems to me that we are more and more frequently seeing news of the demise of companies that have been part of our economy for many years. Some have disappeared through consolidation or takeover while others have simply gone out of business – forced to do so by financial difficulties or other circumstances such as loss of a lease. While these are kinda regrettable they have generally not been of particular interest to me until the New England Confectionary Co announced it would cease operations shortly unless it could find a suitable buyer.

Never heard of this outfit? Well, I hadn’t either although I have been a regular consumer of one of their products. You see, the New England Confectionary Co, which is the oldest continually operated candy manufacturer in this country, makes Necco wafers, an icon of American candy. Yep, those rolls of multi-flavored candy wafers have been made with the same combination of ingredients since 1847 and were reportedly furnished to the Northern soldiers during the Civil War. How about them apples!

Well, contrary to rumors, I wasn’t around then, however, I started enjoying them when I was a youngster a number of decades ago – and I still do so today. In fact, I always keep a roll or two around the house and in the cars – and now they may disappear – a victim of the demise of yet another acclaimed company..

In our family, Necco wafers are known as “Dad’s travel candy” because I prefer them as a snack while I’m driving. They aren’t sticky, gooey, or oily like other snacks, but are easy to handle – and besides, I like the taste. Even today I can expect to receive these wafers as gifts from our offspring for Father’s Day, Christmas, or my birthday. Moreover, whenever our eldest visits us, she brings a few rolls of Necco wafers along with some packets of Southeastern Mills “Peppered Gravy Mix with Sausage Flavor” – but that\s another story.

The candy comes in a couple of roll sizes. The smaller has about eight pieces with the larger containing roughly five times as many. (I haven’t actually counted them.) The smaller size is just right for a quick snack while about half of the larger one is for a more serious attack of the “munchies”. The wafers come in a variety of flavors and colors such as lemon-flavored yellow and grape-flavored purplish. I save the brown chocolate-flavored and black licorice-flavored ones for my Sweetheart-for-Life – they’re her favorites.

One feature of these little gems is their shelf life – I don’t think they have any “use by” date. One report I read stated the famed explorer Admiral Richard Byrd took several tons with him on a two-year 1930’s expedition to the South Pole because they kept so well. I don’t know about that but I have discovered some which had gotten “misplaced” for several years and still tasted just fine.

A long-time friend of ours told me that when she was a youngster her family made gingerbread houses with the wafers for roof shingles. This not only resulted in a colorful structure, but a totally edible one. Commercial gingerbread house producers, who have continued this practice, are reportedly very disappointed with the prospect of losing the wafers and are trying to figure out a suitable substitute.

You know, Necco wafers have never been a “splashy” item although the company reportedly produces about four billion a year. The roll wrapper is not conspicuous and they are usually placed on a lower shelf of a candy display. This means locating them requires diligence on the part of a determined buyer

Well, this surprise announcement has generated quite a reaction across the country including an offer reportedly made by an individual to purchase the entire remaining stock of the wafers. Sales are booming with customers who usually buy one or two rolls now reportedly buying entire boxes. Folks are openly wondering, if the company goes under, whether the wafers could see a rebirth, a resurrection, similar to that of the beloved Twinkie after its apparent demise several years ago.

This leads to one final observation. If you should happen to see an elderly man with a white moustache and beard wearing dark-rimmed glasses who appears to be buying up all the Necco wafers hereabouts, better just ignore him. He might not be dangerous, but with these fanatic devotees of that particular candy, you never know. At least that’s how it seems to me.

By Bill Taylor

Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at [email protected]

Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at [email protected]