If the news that the maker of Necco Wafers could shut down as soon as next month has put you in a sour mood, you might be able to do something about it.
Al Gulachenski, former chief executive of New England Confectionery Co. in Revere, has launched a crowdfunding campaign with the goal of raising $20 million to make a bid for the troubled candymaker. If he reaches that mark, Gulachenski says, he will donate an additional $5 million to $10 million “to do this right.”
By his own admission, collecting that much money is “a tall order.” Exceedingly tall. As of late Tuesday, Gulachenski’s GoFundMe page had collected $565. The fund-raising effort was first reported by candy wholesaler candystore.com, which itself has launched a social media hashtag movement — #SaveNECCO.
Last month, Necco’s chief executive Michael McGee notified Massachusetts officials and Revere’s mayor that the company would lay off 395 employees, the bulk of its workforce, including its executives, if it can’t find a buyer by May.
Gulachenski, who helmed the company from 2012 to 2014, said he started the crowdfunding campaign after reading about a woman who offered candystore.com her 2003 Honda Accord in exchange for the wholesaler’s entire stock of Necco Wafers. He has teamed up with some of the Necco executives who worked under him.
“I’ve lived in Massachusetts my whole life; I’ve been in manufacturing my whole career. I got involved in Necco because I believe in the fact that you can still manufacture something in Massachusetts and in the US,” Gulachenski said. “I became attached to it. It won’t sit right with me if I don’t give it the good old college try.”
This is actually Gulachenski’s second attempt to buy the candy manufacturer. After Necco’s Revere location was sold for nearly $55 million last year to Atlantic Management and VMD Companies, Gulachenski said he partnered with a private equity company, which then made a bid to acquire Necco from owner Ares Capital. He also launched a GoFundMe campaign at the time to go along with that bid, but the offer went nowhere, he said.
Gulachenski claims Ares already has a buyer in place for Necco that plans to liquidate the company. Ares has not publicly announced a buyer, and it did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
If Gulachenski’s current campaign is successful, he said the company would have to be relocated from the massive 50-plus-acre industrial headquarters it’s currently leasing on American Legion Highway in Revere to a smaller location that — ideally — would be in the Greater Boston region. Necco’s lease ends this summer.
“That’s probably the fundamental reason the company’s struggled; all that overhead,” he said, adding that he’s hoping the possibility of saving Necco and hundreds of jobs, “could drive cities and towns to try to get it and make an offer” for a location.
While Gulachenski says he would like to save the entire company, his priority is Necco’s legacy sugar component, which in addition to Necco Wafers also makes Sweethearts. The part of the company that makes chocolate products like the Sky Bar and the Clark bar, however, may not make the cut.
“The sugar component Necco Wafer and Sweetheart is certainly the most nostalgic and recognizable brand, more than the chocolate,” Gulachenski said. “It’s all going to depend how they decide to sell the company and liquidate.”
Necco owner Ares Capital has been trying to find a buyer for Necco so it can keep operating. Since the layoff notice, three companies doing business with Necco have filed a joint petition in federal court in Boston to force Necco into an involuntary bankruptcy. The companies claim they are owed more than $1.6 million, according to court filings.
Gulachenski acknowledged that for his campaign to work, deep-pocketed investors will have to join the grassroots effort.
“Some institutions, some very high-net-worth people are going to have to get involved. Then it starts to get some momentum,” he said. “People love Necco Wafers, but individuals alone aren’t going to make it work.”