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Curiosity Desk | Dec. 5, 2018

A Splintered NECCO Forges A Future Around The World, Just Not In Revere

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Inside the near-empty former NECCO factory in Revere on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018.
Edgar B. Herwick III
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Curiosity Desk | Dec. 5, 2018

After more than a century, the iconic Massachusetts candy maker NECCO went out of business earlier this year. In the months since shutting operations, the company has quietly been split apart — its component pieces and signature candies finding new homes across the country and around the globe. Only now is the future of what was once the New England Confectionery Company truly coming into focus.

Much clarity came when I sat down with Jim Greenberg, co-president of Union Confectionery Machinery, whose company has been a crucial player in a number of deals that have been struck since NECCO ceased operations.

"It was a terribly emotional day for me," said Greenberg, last Thursday night. "I spent my last day in the [NECCO] factory as we moved the last pieces of equipment out of the plant."

Greenberg and Union Confectionery Machinery had spent decades outfitting NECCO with the panoply of machinery it takes to churn out millions upon millions of pieces of candy.

"I saw the whole life cycle of the Revere Building," said Greenberg. "It being empty. It being filled with machinery. And then it being liquidated, sold off, and then broom cleaned to the point that you’d never know anyone was there."

I witnessed some of that final broom cleaning myself the next morning, at the once-bustling NECCO factory in Revere. As I approached what used to be the main entrance, a small crew was loading office chairs, filing cabinets and small couches into a moving truck, and flipping assorted items into a large dumpster.

"This is the last of it," said Bruce Cohen, with the Canton, Mass. company 138 Office Furniture. "Just the furniture."

Cohen walked me around the vast, near-empty facility, where remarkably the smell of candy still lingered. Some dozen or so people were scattered about, clearing the last remnants out of what was the worldwide headquarters of a New England icon.

"It’s amazing all the stuff that was taken out of here," he mused. "This building’s 850,000 square feet."

Finding a new home for all that “stuff” fell to Greenberg and his company, which auctioned off every last peanut roaster, chip maker, chocolate-coating machine and candy cooker to more than 200 different buyers.

"Everywhere from the greater Boston area to Beirut, Lebanon, California, Canada and Mexico. To Europe. They went, all over the world," said Greenberg.

Ohio-based Spangler Candy purchased NECCO’s signature brands — NECCO Wafers and Sweethearts. But NECCO made far more than two products. And in the months since the Spangler deal, to much less fanfare, Greenberg has also shepherded the sale of nearly every other line of NECCO candy.

"We sold the Candy Buttons line — the small candy dots on paper — to a company called Doscher’s Candies in Ohio," he said.

Haviland Thin Mints and Mighty Malt Milk Balls went to Log House Food in Minnesota. Banana Splits, Mint Juleps and Slapstix are now with Mega Candy Company in Reading, Pennsylvania. And the Clark Bar was snapped up by Boyer Candy in Altoona, PA.

"You used to be able to know where someone grew up by what their candy bar was," said Boyer Candy President Anthony Forgione.

While NECCO had been making the Clark Bar for nearly 20 years, its origins began way back in 1917 in Pittsburgh. Forgione says his company doesn’t usually do acquisitions, but bringing the Clark Bar back home to western Pennsylvania was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

"This company was left to me by my father," said Forgione. "Before he passed he went to the auction and tried to keep the Clark Bar in Pittsburgh.

Forgione says that they’d hoped to have production up and running by early next year, but it may take a bit longer than that. Even when you have the recipe and the equipment, making candy — even at scale — is both a science and an art.

"Candy is not manufactured, it's cooked," said Forgione. "It’s an entire skill set that needs to be learned. I mean, that cooking for the Clark Bar is 100 years of trial and error and grooming."

In the interim, Boyer Candy is launching a new product early next year — Clark Cups — a mashup of the Clark Bar and Boyer's signature Mallow Cup. Forgione said his company is starting with what they know.

As for those signature NECCO brands — NECCO Wafers and the Sweethearts — Spangler has yet to begin rolling new ones off the line in Ohio, but Greenberg said they are coming.

"They are already taking orders for NECCO Wafers for 2019," he said. "And they are already beginning to take orders for Sweethearts conversational hearts for February 2020."

One thing that has yet to be sold is the empty factory. Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo told me the city has re-zoned the space for advanced manufacturing, robotics and bio-tech. So, if you’re in the market for a sweet deal on 850,000 square feet near the Blue Line and Logan Airport, the mayor is all ears.

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