Sweets for my sweet - a visit to the Love Hearts factory at New Mills
PUBLISHED: 11:20 09 February 2015 | UPDATED: 19:53 23 October 2015
With 14th February in mind, Mike Smith heads to Swizzels Matlow in search of toothsome treats
On Valentine’s Day, millions of people around the world will be searching for the right words to express their feelings, whether to state their undying love, resurrect a dying romance or give birth to a new relationship. Finding an appropriate phrase can be a tricky business, especially for those hoping to attract a new partner. A search of internet sites and lonely hearts columns throws up some excruciating examples of chat-up lines, from ‘The voices in my head told me to come and talk to you’, to ‘Hello, I’m Mr Right. Someone said you were looking for me’.
As David Dee, the originator of Love Hearts sweets, realised, the most effective chat-up lines are those which are short and sweet. In 1954, David took a selection of brief terms of endearment and made them all the sweeter by inscribing them on heart-shaped confectionery. Surprisingly, the first Love Hearts were not sold as Valentine’s Day love tokens but as novelty gifts in Christmas crackers. However, they have remained all-year-round favourites ever since, not least on 14th February, when the sweets are sold in a special ‘I Love You’ tube. David Dee founded the Swizzels sweet company in 1933, in association with Alfred and Maurice Tetlow, who had established Matlow Bros Ltd five years earlier. David concentrated on the production of tabletlike sweets, such as Dimple Mints and Navy Mints (‘The Sweet with the Hole’), whereas the Tetlow brothers manufactured jellies, chews and boiled sweets.
When their London factories were bombed in the Blitz of 1940, both firms were evacuated to the Derbyshire town of New Mills, where they took over two halves of Brunswick Mill, which had previously been used for the manufacture of candle wicks for miners’ lamps. The move from the capital was intended to be temporary but became permanent and prompted a series of modern extensions to the old mill.
In 1975, the firms merged to become Swizzels Matlow. Second generation family members, Michael Dee and Trevor Matlow, are the current joint chairmen, and third generation members of the two families, Jeremy Dee, Jonathan Dee and Nici Matlow, are now company directors. Nor are long associations with the firm confined to family members. Fourteen employees have been with the company for 38 years or more and one of the production managers, Barry Land, has worked at the factory for 40 years.
The firm’s confectionery products are long-lasting too. Original favourites, such as Drumstick Lollies, New Refresher Chews, Fizzers, Parma Violets, Double Lollies, Fruity Pops and Rainbow Drops, are still manufactured as, of course, are Love Hearts. Swizzels Matlow produces up to 10 million Love Hearts a day, which amounts to 2.75 billion annually – enough to stretch around the world one and a half times. And the sweets’ slogans are produced in English, German, French and Hebrew.
Some 200 different slogans are used in all. They range from messages that might be used by bashful or anxious suitors, such as ‘Like Me’, ‘Miss Me’, and even ‘I’m Shy’, to words which might be used by those who feel secure in their relationship, including ‘True Love’, ‘You’re Mine’ and ‘Only You’. Demonstrative types will particularly like ‘Lush Lips’ and ‘Wow’ and Scottish customers are catered for with ‘Bonnie Lass’. There are even slogans that might be useful in times of crisis or in particularly tricky situations. These include ‘Trust Me’, ‘Don’t Cry’ and ‘Sorry’.
Every tube of Love Hearts contains a random mixture of slogans, so it would be possible to pick particular sweets from the mix to match the mood of the moment. Similarly, the sweets come in a variety of colours and fruit flavours: white (vanilla); yellow (lemon); green (lime); orange (orange); purple (berrylike) and red (cherry). During manufacture, the various flavourings are added in different production lines to sugar which has been granulated to a fine powder. The concoctions are compressed into tablets before the messages are imprinted and the variously flavoured Love Hearts are then randomly mixed before being packaged.
The firm has always had a knack with slogans, not only with those imprinted on Love Hearts, but also with advertising slogans that have been associated with some of their traditional favourites, such as Dolly Beads (‘The sweet necklace which is fun to wear and good to eat’), Candy Whistles (‘The candy which adds colour to your lips’) and Buttered Popcorn (‘Improves any movie’).
Thanks to clever marketing and the runaway success of Love Hearts, the Derbyshire firm remains the biggest independently-owned confectionery company in the country. Princess Diana (‘The Queen of Hearts’) paid a visit to the factory in 1991 and Swizzels Matlow was awarded the Queen’s Award for Export in 1971. However, the Dee and Matlow families have no intention of resting on their laurels. Alert to feedback from their 55,000 Facebook followers, the company is always on the lookout for new products to add to their range, as well as fresh ways of marketing their traditional sweets.
In 2012 the firm launched Squashes, which saw old favourites like Drumsticks, Refreshers, Double Lollies and even Love Hearts transformed into squashy gums. New Love Heart slogans are added from time to time to keep up with fashions, fads and events. To commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Swizzels Matlow produced a special tin packed with Love Hearts displaying the slogans ‘Corgi Love’, ‘VIP’, ‘Congrats Ma’am’ and ‘HRH’. The firm has even teamed up with the boy band One Direction to produce a special 1D pack of Love Hearts with the slogans ‘Liam Rocks’, ‘Zayn 4 Me’, ‘Always Niall’, ‘I Love Louis’ and ‘Harry 4U’.
All the slogans on the 1D pack were suggested by Facebook followers and the company has made other efforts to bring Love Hearts into the age of texting and social network sites. Additions to the slogan range include ‘Email me’, ‘Luv U 24/7’ and ‘How r u’. Of course, the words that carry most meaning on Valentine’s Day are still ‘I Love You’, but they don’t seem to convey quite the same sincerity when written as ‘I Luv U’.