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Hearts on fire: Chocolate, conversation candies dominate Valentine's Day sales

This Valentine's Day, people across the country will spend $1.6 billion on candy.
This Valentine's Day, people across the country will spend $1.6 billion on candy.
Flickr via twoacrephotography

No matter if you're casually dating, completely in love, or nursing the pain of a breakup, you can still enjoy the best part of the Valentine's Day: candy!

The drugstore candy aisle have gone red, pink and edible. Hershey Kisses bulk up to their heavyweight, seven-ounce size. Shelves are lined with sweetheart candies that read "ANGEL" or "TE AMO."

If the less goofy and more gourmet is your thing, See's Candies is selling Scotchmallow candy hearts, while Ghirardelli has cranked out red heart boxes of chocolate goodies.

But no matter which sweets tug at your heart, you and plenty of other Valentine lovers will buy lots of them. 

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), more than half of V-Day lovebirds will buy candy, spending a total of $1.6 billion across the country. Each person will spend an average of  $130 total for the holiday on chocolates, flowers, gifts and more.

Valentine's Day not always a retail holiday

Ira Kalb, professor of marketing at the USC Marshall School of Business, said it wasn't until about 1901 that Hallmark began offering greeting cards for the holiday. It took a few more decades for candy, gifts and date nights to became V-Day traditions.

Kalb said companies look for any reason to create significant events, and then use those events to sell products.

“Valentine's Day is one of those holidays they’ve kind of latched onto," he said. "They're growing it, it seems, almost every year."

Candy holiday

V-Day is now the second biggest candy holiday of the year behind Halloween, and it's chocolates and conversation hearts that dominate the February sales, said Kalb. 

The traditional, colorful candy hearts with amorous messages that are now synonymous with the holiday are produced by Massachussetts-based Necco. Kalb said confectioners used to insert messages into candies (kind of like fortune cookies),  but Necco was the first to print phrases onto candy. 

The messages have grown in variety over the years and now incorporate youth-oriented phrases like "You Rock" and "Text Me," as well as sayings in Spanish -- "Sweethearts En Espanol."

On average, Necco produces 10 million to 14 million pounds of hearts per year -- equalling about 7 billion individual candies, Time Magazine reports.

Chocolate is the Valentine champion

According to the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF),  the U.S. chocolate industry is made up of approximately 400 companies that manufacture more than 90 percent of the country's chocolate and candy products. Although there are suppliers and producers in 35 states, California -- along with Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Illinois, New York, Wisconsin, Texas, Virginia, and Ohio -- have the highest concentration of confection creators.

California is home to Ghirardelli, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Dove Chocolate Discoveries and a slew of other smaller or locally-based confectioners.

And while many of us will be eating the abundance of American-made candy this February 14, Kalb said the Swiss and Dutch are widely recognized for their softer, quality chocolates . 

“Most people think that things that are imported are better,” he said, and while some of these perceptions may be based on quality, a lot of this mindset is based on image.  

This may also be why France and Italy have "cornered the market" on all things romantic, explained Kalb. Known for romantic films, decadent foods and an abundnace of wine, it's no wonder that these countries are two of the few places that celebrate V-Day outside the U.S. 

The History Channel reports that Valentine's Day is also celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Australia, Denmark and Japan.