If you follow me on twitter, this weekend you would have seen these crazy pics pop up. They were taken at the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, CA which is a must see destination for all your drooling sugar minions out there. Instead of spending the day after Thanksgiving battling the crowds to buy tons of shit that we don’t need (the dreaded Black Friday), my family and I took a drive out to Fairfield to get our fill of Jelly Belly jelly beans, MY MOST FAVORITE CANDY EVER!
The Jelly Belly factory gives visitors free tours of their working facility. You get to see every step of the bean-making process. Unfortunately, the factory itself was closed for the weekend so none of the machines were on and none of the workers were on the floor. But it was still really cool to see all the machines and to see trays of beans in various stages of completion. At each stop of the tour, there are video monitors that give you a short history of the Jelly Belly company and quick run down of the various stations you’re looking at. The most surprising thing for me was the number of actual people it takes to make a Jelly Belly. I figured much of the process would be automated by now, but it turns out that a good number of people are employed to oversee the various stages of the process. Lots of people hands are involved in each bean. Fully automated robots are used for packaging and that’s about it. Everything else requires a human touch.
We have former President, California Governor, and actor Ronald Reagan to thank for the popularity of Jelly Belly jelly beans. Apparently, he used to pass around bowl fulls during meetings when he was governor. The state press got a hold of the story and sales of Jelly Bellys took off. When he was elected President, Jelly Belly made a blueberry bean so that jars of red, white, and blue Jelly Bellys could be handed out at Reagan’s inauguration. This portrait of Reagan done entirely with Jelly Bellys is the very first Jelly Belly portrait ever created. It hangs in the lobby of the store.
I wish there were videos of the artists putting together these Jelly Belly art pieces. This grizzly bear that greeted us before the tour began is absolutely stunning. There are more examples at their online art gallery.
Yes, that is a pizza shaped like a Jelly Belly. I ordered a medium because I figured it would be medium. Ah… no. This pizza was freaking HUGE! I could not finish it all by myself. Wasn’t expecting much from a cafeteria pizza, but the crust was actually really nice and crunchy. Very impressed. But the best part of our lunch was the potato chips. They must cut them or cook them on site because they were thicker than any store-bought chip I’ve ever had. You could see the raw the potato on parts that were stuck together and never hit the oil. Really impressed with the quality of the chips.
At the end of your tour, they give you a complimentary bag of assorted jelly beans. You can also hit up the tasting bar and get as many free jelly beans as you want. I highly suggest the new Chili Mango flavor. Sweet and spicy and fucking awesome! If you imagine yourself dying of diabetes in a jelly bean filled Chuck E Cheese ball room, this is the place to stock up.
Apparently, not every bean is worthy of the Jelly Belly name. Those beans that are too small or too big or misshapen are called “Belly Flops.” $10 will get you a 2lb. bag of Belly Flops that in some ways turn out to be more fun than eating the regular ones. They also sell Extreme Sport Beans which is just too douchey to say without laughing. Seriously, caffeinated Jelly Bellys is not what you want. Ever.
We had a lot of fun on the tour and I’d love to come back to see the factory with people working it. If you’re ever out Fairfield way, or San Francisco (it’s only an hour away), make a point to head out to the Jelly Belly factory. Yes, you will probably get adult onset diabetes from all the free Jelly Bellys you’ll stuff in your face. But it’s a fine tasty way to die.
Bonus: Hey look! I found a video of the tour! They wouldn’t let us take any photos, but apparently, they let these people video tape the thing!