Last Updated on November 30, 2023
Every year, candy lovers eat 15 billion Jelly Belly beans — enough to wrap around the earth five times. The intensely flavored beans have been to the White House, more than 80 countries around the globe, and even outer space.
These jelly beans are stars on Instagram and YouTube, and their flavors — more than 100 and counting — are legendary. From the ever-popular Very Cherry and Buttered Popcorn to the infamous Dead Fish and Barf (which my kids discovered lived up to its name), Jelly Belly bean flavors are anything, but dull.
When I had a chance to tour the Jelly Belly Candy Company Factory in Fairfield, CA, I couldn’t resist. I wanted to learn more about these iconic jelly beans that have captured fans’ imaginations and inspired a devoted following.
The Jelly Belly Factory
The three Jelly Belly factories are a destination for jelly bean lovers. The other two are in north Chicago and Rayong, Thailand. The factories are designed for making jelly beans, but also designed to entertain and reward Jelly Belly fans with a one-of-a-kind experience.
“Our decision to turn our factory tours into a destination was driven by our desire to share the magic and artistry behind our jelly beans,” John Jamison, vice president of retail operations, said. “We wanted to show people exactly what goes into making the original gourmet jelly bean.”
The first thing you notice when stepping inside the factory is the faint sugar aroma that hangs in the air. Also hanging in the air from the skylights is Mr. Jelly Belly, a larger-than-life red jelly bean character wearing a smile and a white chef hat.
More oversized brightly colored jelly beans dangle from the two-story-high ceiling like technicolored clouds. The message is clear: Welcome to the whimsical world of Jelly Belly beans.
On one side of the lobby is the cafe, which serves breakfast and lunch. It’s handy for parents who want their kids to eat something substantial before raiding the impressive array of candy on display in the gift shop. The lunch menu offers a variety of sandwiches, wraps, and salads, plus bean-shaped pizzas and burgers.
The Jelly Belly Factory Tour
Tickets in hand and retro-style paper hats on our heads, my group headed up the stairs beside the gift shop to start the tour. An elevator is also available.
The tour is self-guided along a window-lined corridor above the factory floor. Videos along the way explain the process, share company history, and regale visitors with fun trivia, such as the fact that it takes seven to 14 days to craft a perfect gourmet jelly bean.
“Jelly Belly jelly beans are not like other jelly beans. Our wide variety and true-to-life flavors are unparalleled,” Jamison said. “We hope our visitors gain a firsthand appreciation for the time, care, and expertise that goes into making our jelly beans.”
We began the tour at the end of the jelly bean-making process, where colorful candy bags and boxes are packed into brown cardboard boxes, and worked backward, finishing in the kitchen where the candy slurry begins.
Jelly beans all start the same way, with a gooey, liquid mix of sugar, water, cornstarch, and corn syrup. Then, specific ingredients are added to the slurry, such as fruit purees, fruit juice concentrates, spices, coffee, or whatever else will give the beans their intense flavors. The recipes are a closely guarded secret.
The slurry is poured into jelly bean molds, creating the center of the bean. Once firm, the centers get a steam bath to make them sticky and a sugar shower to keep them from sticking together. Then they rest in trays for a day or two.
Stacks of trays filled with jelly beans in various colors and shades crowd the resting rooms. Seeing the stacks and rows gives you an idea of how much the Fairfield factory produces — about 4 million jelly beans a day. Rows of pastel pinks and blues, cherry reds, emerald greens, and pale yellows present a scene made for Instagram.
On down the corridor is a room with rows of round, stainless steel panning machines that look like concrete mixers full of jelly beans. The original panning machine was indeed a concrete mixer and is now housed in the museum across the parking lot.
This is where the bean centers get their flavored candy coating. They tumble in sugar and syrup, gradually building up layers until they’re nearly 40% larger. Then they rest again. The beans return to the panning machines for their shiny polish. Before packaging, the white Jelly Belly signature is stamped on every bean.
Several rooms are devoted to packaging. One is filled with machines and conveyor belts with bags of candy heading in various directions, and another is home to robots placing bags in boxes. With beans, bags, boxes, and belts full of beans everywhere, it’s a little confusing to follow.
The tour explains how jelly beans are made, but that’s only part of the fun. Fruity aromas waft through the corridors, and one section has smelling stations for more tempting scents. Interactive games such as Bean Blitz and a bean sorting game add to the entertainment.
Mosaics made from jelly beans hang along the walls, depicting people, movie characters, animals, and famous works of art. The company has commissioned more than 100 bean mosaic pieces, each taking nearly 100 hours and more than 10,000 beans to complete.
“Our gallery isn’t large enough to display all of them at once, but we generally have over 50 different pieces of art on display between our art gallery, factory tour, and museum,” Jamison said.
Many of the mosaics can be viewed on the Jelly Belly website, too.
The Gift Shop and Chocolate Shoppe
Back on the first floor, the gift shop beckons. Beans in seasonal and themed packaging, toys, and an assortment of packaged beans fill the space. Shoppers will find a variety of Sportbeans, BeanBoozled beans, pearlescent Jewel Jelly Belly beans, and all kinds of bean flavor mixes.
Souvenir clothing emblazoned with the company logo is also available for purchase. In the back corner are bags filled with the factory seconds, the not-quite-perfect beans known as Belly Flops.
It’s the colorful and seemingly endless wall of at least 100 candy dispensers displaying Jelly Belly beans that most draws the eye. The variety is astounding. The original eight flavors are joined by many tastes you won’t find anywhere else, from Cappuccino to Toasted Marshmallow. The assortment is ever-evolving, as new flavors are introduced and less popular flavors are retired.
The cocktail collection features Gin & Tonic, Margarita, Mojito, Mimosa, and Strawberry Daiquiri. There’s a collection of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts flavors as well as nearly a dozen inspired by sodas (the Sunkist Orange is intense, and who can resist trying Dr. Pepper?).
Snapple juice drinks, Boba Milk Tea, and Cold Stone Creamery also lend their flavors to a few beans. Half the fun is the packaging as Draft Beer flavored Jelly Belly beans are sold in a pseudo beer can.
The BeanBoozled and Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans appeal to the daring among Jelly Belly fans. BeanBoozled pairs “weird and wild” flavors with delicious lookalikes, leaving fans to wonder, is it Rotten Egg or Buttered Popcorn? Stinky Socks or Tutti-Fruitti?
Bertie Bott’s beans mix more weird flavors, such as Earthworm, Soap, and Barf, with Cinnamon, Lemon, and other classics.
Next to the gift shop is the Chocolate Shoppe, a reminder that The Jelly Belly Candy Company makes more than jelly beans. Fudge, caramel apples, and just about anything dipped in chocolate are made on-site. The company produces nearly 100 different candy confections, including candy corn, gummies, and mints.
The Jelly Belly Museum
The complete history of the Jelly Belly Candy Company is showcased in the museum across from the factory entrance. It’s not far, but we rode the small motorized train anyway, just for fun.
Inside, displays tell the story of Gustav Goelitz, who opened a candy business in 1869 in Belleville, IL. He ran the shop and made the confections for Gustav Goeliz Candy, and his brother sold the treats in neighboring towns from a horse-drawn wagon.
“Some of the most compelling pieces are the replicas of antique candy-making equipment from the early 1900s,” Jamison said. “These machines help show the evolution of candy production and underscore the time-honored techniques that have influenced Jelly Belly’s history.”
Photographs, newspaper clippings, and vintage candy-making equipment help tell the story of how the family business grew and spread to the West Coast. The company began making mini jelly beans in the 1960s, and the first Jelly Belly brand beans launched in 1976 with just eight flavors: Very Cherry, Licorice, Lemon, Tangerine, Green Apple, Root Beer, Cream Soda, and Grape.
Ronald Reagan was already a fan of Jelly Belly beans when he was elected president (his favorite flavor was licorice). For his inauguration in 1981, the company shipped three and a half tons of cherry, coconut, and blueberry (red, white, and blue) jelly beans to Washington, D.C.
Reagan sent Jelly Belly beans into space two years later with the astronauts on the Challenger mission. Memorabilia from Reagan’s presidential years holds a prominent position in the museum and the factory displays.
In addition to the candy-making equipment, the museum exhibits the fun side of the Jelly Belly Candy Company. One of these is a 1935 Chris-Craft runabout, its Philippine mahogany polished to a high gloss. Custom-made Jelly Belly-bedecked motorcycles, one with a sidecar shaped like a jelly bean, are parked in one section.
Hand-crafted mosaics, both in frames and on three-dimensional figures, an interactive game, and an animated chorus line of high-kicking Jelly Belly characters in chefs’ hats round out the museum.
The Jelly Belly Experience
It’s the chorus line of dancing Jelly Belly figures that finally sparks the answer to the question I started with: What is it about these jelly beans that has inspired a devoted following?
It’s not just the sweetness or the colors, plenty of candies are equally sugary and colorful. It’s the playfulness that permeates the brand, from Mr. Jelly Belly outside the museum in an exuberant pose that may be some sort of yoga, to the game spinner that accompanies select boxes of BeanBoozled beans.
It’s also the array of flavors, from Champagne to Dirty Dishwater. With more than 100 to choose from and jelly bean combinations that create even more flavors, the possibilities are endless. Each one promises the thrill of tasty discovery.
As I open my bag of BeanBoozled jelly beans and contemplate a bean covered in colorful splotches, I suddenly realize I’ve become a fan now, too.
Will it be Stinky Socks or Tutti Fruitti?
There is only one way to find out.