When Ray Rocker, 62, walks the streets of his hometown, Bay Point, Calif. (pop. 21,534), hes often greeted by smiling children. Its the jelly bean man, they yell, running after him.
Rocker is living every kids dream, working as a candy maker for the Jelly Belly Candy Co. in Fairfield, Calif. The kids think Im made out of Jelly Bellys, jokes Rocker, a 40-year employee. They expect me to have a pocket full of Jelly Bellys when they see me. I usually do and love handing them out.
The reaction that Rocker receives is one shared by many employees of the family-owned company, including Lisa Brasher, 44, whose great-great-grandfather, Gustav Goelitz, set the family on its candy-making course. When you tell people you make candy, they usually smile, says Brasher, who serves as vice president of marketing and works alongside her father, company CEO Herman Goelitz Rowland Sr.
The candy companys roots date back to 1869 when German-immigrant Goelitz founded the Goelitz Candy Co., in Belleville, Ill., selling handmade candies from a horse-drawn cart with his brother, Albert. In 1921, Gustavs sons moved the business to California. Over the next few decades, business ebbed and flowed, and its various candies, including candy corn, became a popular treat, especially during Halloween.
But the companys fortunes changed soon after it began producing jelly beans in 1965, thanks to actor-turned-politician Ronald Reagan. In 1966, Reagan was kicking his tobacco habit with jelly beans, Brasher says. His staff asked my dad to provide Reagans candy. After Reagan became governor (of California), the press noticed the bowl of Goelitz jelly beans on his desk and we got swamped by the media.
Sales increased significantly, and in 1976 came another turning point. That year a candy distributor asked the company to produce a jelly bean with natural flavors. In response, the candy makers cooked up a recipe for a new kind of jelly beanintensely flavored with natural ingredients whenever possible. The result was called the Jelly Belly, with eight original flavors: very cherry, lemon, cream soda, tangerine, green apple, root beer, grape and licorice.
The company added blueberry in 1981 when Reagan needed a blue bean to create red, white and blue jelly bean displays for his presidential inauguration parties.
In 2001, the company took on the name of its most prized creation, becoming the Jelly Belly Candy Co. Last year, the company produced 15 billion jelly beans in 50 flavors, from orange juice to jalapeño, rotating in new flavors based on public response.
In fact, more than 450,000 candy lovers annually taste free samples of new and traditional flavors at the Jelly Belly Visitor Center, located at the Fairfield manufacturing plant.
This place brings out the little kid in everyone, no matter how old they are, says Sandra Castillo, who works behind the visitor center candy counter. People are surprised by how many flavors there are, although most try the old favorites: juicy pear, licorice, buttered popcorn and very cherry. Theyre amazed they taste so much like the real thing. We get people from all over the world and theyre always excited by the free candy.
Visitors are dazzled by brightly colored Jelly Belly beans and are offered a glimpse of the manufacturing process. Each beans center is a blend of sugar, water, flavoring and corn syrup thats cooked, shaped and dried for seven to 21 days, depending on the flavor. The dried centers are then candy coated, polished and automatically sorted. Finally, the Jelly Belly logo is printed on each bean with marshmallow ink.
Its a process that Brasher expects will keep candy makers like Ray Rocker handing out Jelly Belly beans for years to come.
Candy making is our passion, she says. Everybody from the newest employee to the CEO knows everything that goes on here. Were constantly learning from each other. Even though were a big company, we still run it like a neighborhood candy store.
- This Easter, around 5 billion Jelly Belly beans will be eaten.
- Last year, enough Jelly Belly beans were eaten worldwide to circle the Earth five times.
- Each bean has 4 calories and zero fat.
- The most popular flavors are very cherry, licorice, buttered popcorn, juicy pear and watermelon.