Necco Wafers history: How the round, colorful candy became so popular

Roll of Necco Wafers - old-fashioned candy

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Necco Wafers candy made their debut back in 1847 — yes, even before the Civil War!

So how did they get to be famous? Here, take a look back at a huge advertising push a Boston-based company used back in the 1910s and 1920s to make Necco Wafers candy — rolls of sweets that were flavored to taste like peppermint, wintergreen, chocolate, cinnamon and licorice — so popular and successful that they’d stay on shelves for the next hundred years. (Alas, some people muse that the taste and texture of these wafers made it seem like the actual package in your hand was made 100 years ago.)

Their big breakthrough was a new kind of ad campaign, involving newspaper ads, point-of-purchase prominence… and even a “Wafermobile” making the rounds.

As you will also see below, Necco had another big ad push in the 1950s, when they promoted the candy as a perfect treat for Halloween and a stocking-stuffer at Christmas.

So how have these sugary discs changed throughout the history of Necco Wafers? The packages cost more than a nickel, of course, but modern-day Necco candy flavors — which you may be able to buy here — are a little different, too. Now the 8 taste sensations are clove (purple), cinnamon (white), wintergreen (pink), lemon (yellow), lime (green), orange (orange), chocolate (brown) and licorice (black).

Christmas Necco Wafers ad from 1950

Mouth-melting disks of alluring sweetness

“Every wafer is a mouth-melting disk of alluring sweetness. In rolls of peppermint, wintergreen, chocolate, cinnamon, and assorted flavors. 

Necco Wafers is one of 300 Necco Sweets; rich, creamy, foil-wrapped chocolate bars; delicious hard candies: also a wide variety of Necco Chocolates in handsome gift boxes. All bear the Necco seal, the distinguishing mark of highest candy quality.”

Necco Wafers: Out of this world (1951)

Necco Wafers candy from 1951

Candy sales up 200 percent: Necco wafers candy maintain the original size package and continues to sell at war prices (1920)

By W. K. Burlen, Advertising Manager New England Confectionery Company

One of the most serious problems which has faced the candy manufacturer since the beginning of the war has been the forecasting of the probable supply and price of sugar. The fluctuations in value of this important raw material have been largely responsible for the odd prices, such as six, seven and eight cents on heretofore five-cent candy packages.

Many retailers have predicted that it would be necessary to go back to the five-cent size, because of the convenience of a single coin, and because they believed that war-time prices must come to a sudden end.

Some manufacturers reduced the size of the package in order to do this. Necco Wafers, however, have been continued in the original size package and have continued to sell for six cents.

Possibly we were influenced somewhat by the excise taxes levied upon soft drinks, which served to bring home to every retailer the realization that the Government saw several reasons why odd prices should prevail.

Vintage 50s Necco Wafers

Also, we were probably influenced by the desire to maintain the same-sized package, feeling that the consumer was sufficiently familiar with the high cost of sugar to realize that an adjustment was inevitable, and that every home in the country would have the news as soon as we did.

It is interesting to note at this time that no confectionery publicity was being placed before the consumer with any assurance of maintaining the price quoted, and I believe that we were the first to advertise an odd price in direct opposition to the advice from all regular sources of trade information.

When the initials of the company’s name were eventually molded into the trade-mark “Necco,” we realized that advertising Necco Wafers would best reflect the company’s policy of high standards in all of its products linked definitely with our name.

The history of Necco Wafers: Bless your hearth (1952)

Stocking stuffers of the round candy for Christmas

Necco assorted wafers candy 1952

The need of specific advertising

Since 1904, small advertising appropriations have been devoted primarily to popularizing the trademark as applied to all of our products in general, and also to a few specialities, such as Necco Wafers.

The business, however, has practically grown upon its own merits, just as many other products have been able to show constantly increasing volume built upon their reputation of quality established years before.

But not until the new confections were promoted by whirlwind advertising campaigns, and accomplished in a few years what would ordinarily have taken many years of intensive selling through the old method, did we feel the necessity of any specific advertising to promote Necco Wafers.

Vintage Necco Wafers
Photo by Jennifer M |

We realized that there was a great latent power yet unexplored which would prove of immense value in any advertising campaign promoted by this company. There was the confidence of our customers, the jobbers, who would back the company to the limit on anything which they proposed to advertise.

This, indeed, was an enviable position to be in at the start of an advertising campaign.

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In normal times, the Necco line consists of many hundreds of different candies, including fine packaged chocolates, and practically every variety of candy down to the smallest penny goods.

The largest part of these goods is sold in bulk, and does not reach the consumer in its original package. Our five, ten, fifteen cent packages and the high-grade chocolates put up in attractive five, two, one and one-half pound packages, were the only ones susceptible to effective publicity.

Of these packaged goods, it is quite evident that Necco Wafers, rolled in transparent paper, in a convenient pocket size, to retail at six cents, stood out above all others as the most appropriate and popular.

Necco for Halloween: Everybody’s favorite gobblin’ (1950s)

Necco Wafers for Halloween 1950s

Tested for advertisability, Necco Wafers qualified as an excellent leader for the rest of the line.

1. They represented the highest form of pure sugar confection.

2. They offered a wide variety of flavor in a single package, and had already proved that they met a wide popular taste.

3. These small compact packages were admirably adapted to counter display, and had the quick repeat sale quality.

4. We could supply them in quantities to meet practically any increase in demand.

5. The field, while not competition-free, was not competition-filled.

Our plan, therefore, was —

1. To bring Necco Wafers to the attention of the consumer through some unique method that would produce maximum attention value at minimum cost.

2. To impress the retailer with the value of this unique appeal, thereby securing distribution and prominent store display.

3. To do all missionary work among the retailers, knowing that we could rely upon the jobbers to follow up with a liberal stock.

The territory selected was from Newark, N. J., throughout Greater New York, northern New Jersey, including Long Island, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Throughout this territory, a selected list of newspapers composed the backbone of our campaign, followed up by a generous display of street-car cards in the trolley and railroad lines of the principal cities.

Distribution was a vital link in the success of our plan, and a generous amount of our appropriation was devoted to the employment of some thirty specialty salesmen. An announcement in folder form was sent to all possible retail outlets, displaying proofs of the newspaper and street-car advertisements, and lists of the mediums to be used in every town. These folders were also used effectively by the specialty men to secure the retailer’s co-operation in counter display.

Our crew worked hard and fast. We wanted distribution and we got it. Thousands of dealers who had heretofore never felt sufficient demand for Necco Wafers to put them on the counter, now had them in the most conspicuous locations.

Thousands of new dealers were probably impressed with the sales possibilities expressed by the uniqueness of the advertising which they felt confident would attract attention. As a result, they gave us fine counter display.

Necco Wafers 1919

Necco Wafers’ ad copy and artwork

There are two points which are common to all campaigns, and which are being given more and more consideration by seasoned advertisers, as a result of the increased cost of space, and the large number of advertisers who are to-day clamoring for attention — these are copy and artwork.

We felt that in the presentation of our copy, it was necessary to prepare something appropriate which would strike a new note, and our attention was directed toward striking typography. The value of white space received its full share of consideration, and the clean-cut, direct, crisp and brief message was almost sure to demand an interview.

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Realizing full well the dangers incurred in maintaining distribution, especially in the very large cities, we felt the need of something spectacular to supplement the publicity already planned.

Realizing that the animated display has great advertising value, we built the Necco car. This was a small automobile with the body constructed in the form of an immense roll of Necco Wafers.

Necco Wafers truck

The attention which this car demanded, the manner in which it strengthened the work of our specialty salesmen, the way it impressed the retail dealer, and the comment expressed by almost every passerby, branded this piece of advertising above all others as the most effective and economical expenditure made.

Our real problem was the development of a type of artwork which would unfailingly demand attention because of its uniqueness.

For this reason, we sought the work of a man who could portray the everyday type of individual in an up-to-date style which would have all the qualities of lightness so necessary in matching up well with the typography planned.

One of his chief considerations was the fact that a six-cent candy is within the reach of nearly every pocketbook, and Necco Wafers appealed to every age from the smallest tots upwards.

The degree of interest which all of these ages might have for the beautiful in art was a problem. We must guard against portraying an atmosphere too far above them, as well as the danger of suggesting an atmosphere of cheapness, which might be construed as applying to quality.

There was one basic principle which we could safely adopt. No matter how fastidious or lowly our prospect might be, we felt perfectly certain that refinement in treatment and the portrayal of everyday life would interest the most critical student of humanity without prejudice.

Necco Wafers 1920

A human interest comic series

Some have called this work whimsical; others have wondered why an old established firm could become so frivolous as to adopt this comic series. It is true, we gave it great consideration, and it seems to have measured up to the standards, because, first, it offended no one, secondly, it savored more strongly of human interest and real life than any possible interpretation of the comic, thirdly, it was quite as interesting as any figures yet devised.

Starting as we did with a very considerable business in wafers, our sales were increased over 200 percent from almost the very start. A complete canvass of all candy places through the territory covered shows that we doubled our distribution, and we are now approaching so nearly a saturation point that we consider it an enviable position to have attained.

There were many interesting sidelights throughout the campaign. Most of our jobbers demonstrated their faith by doubling their orders at the very first shot. Even our salesmen, with no reflection on their enthusiasm, felt concerned about allowing their customers to buy too heavily until the campaign had gained headway.

Many customers seemed to sense the importance of the work which we had planned, and their enthusiasm was largely responsible for the extensive distribution accomplished even before our specialty men had the opportunity to reach the territory.

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Vintage Necco candy ad from 1922

Boston Post – job ad for wrappers at Necco Wafers factory (1916)

WANTED AT ONCE: Experienced girls to wrap Necco Wafers. Apply between 9 and 11 am at factory entrance, 27 Melcher St. [Boston] New England Confectionary Co.

Boston Post - ad for job at Necco Wafers

How Texas Eastern does a sweet job for Necco(1957)

Necco Wafers ad - 1957

NOW SEE THIS: Check out the colorful history of Life Savers candy in this fascinating timeline (plus see a list of 30+ classic flavors)

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