Ronald Reagan and I have the same taste in jelly beans. The average jelly bean takes 20+ days to make. These were just some of the many exciting things we learned yesterday on our visit to the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, CA.
For most people, Jelly Belly’s factory/world headquarters probably isn’t on the list of top San Francisco attractions. We discovered it not through a guidebook or tourism website, but through a rack card in the Budget Rental Car waiting room at the Oakland Airport.
As soon as I saw the card, though, I knew we had to go. I love both factories and Jelly Bellies, and the tour promised a behind-the-scenes look at their production process, as well as…free samples!
So yesterday, before having seen Alcatraz, the cable cars, or any of the normal San Francisco attractions, we packed up the car and drove about an hour north to Fairfield.
The Jelly Belly factory is located in the middle of nowhere; you drive through miles of barren, mountainous terrain, only to see it appear on the horizon like some kind of glorious, shining monument to refined sugar.
Which is basically what it is. The factory consists of a massive visitor center, with a fully-stocked Jelly Belly store, a tasting bar offering unlimited samples of all the Jelly Belly beans, a complete chocolate and fudge shop, a cafe selling food in the shape of Jelly Bellies, and even…a dog walking area!
Amy and I spent some time looking around and taking advantage of various Jelly Belly photo ops.
We then lined up for the tour, which was free. Unfortunately, they don’t allow pictures during the tour, so we don’t have anything to share here. But basically, you put on hairnets (Jelly Belly themed, of course) and walk along an elevated walkway through the factory with about 30 other people. A tour guide briefly explains each step of the Jelly Belly process, and you watch videos talking about the step you’re watching.
The whole place is filled with a powerful cherry smell (the smell apparently changes daily depending on what flavor bean they’re making) and everything is covered in a fine layer of cornstarch (which is used as part of the bean-making process). The factory floor is an exciting tangle of conveyor belts, industrial robots, men in white coats, and trays containing millions and millions of multi-colored beans.
To make beans, Jelly Belly starts with a flavored syrup, which is poured into thousands of tiny molds created by pressing a special stamp into trays of cornstarch, producing jelly bean “centers.” The centers are like gummy bears (you get to taste one on the tour). They are then placed into big spinning cauldrons, where workers slowly add sugar and flavorings to build up the outer shell, a process which takes days.
The beans are then polished, and moved through a Willy Wonka-esque contraption with augers and gears which prints the Jelly Belly logo on each bean and sorts out the rejects. In the final step, they move along a conveyor past a man whose job is to look at beans all day and manually remove any bad ones which the machine missed, I Love Lucy style. The store downstairs sells the rejects, which they call Belly Flops.
The tour was a lot of fun, and we each got a bag of Jelly Bellys afterwards. On the tour, we also learned that Ronald Reagan had 2,000+ pounds of Jelly Bellies delivered to various White House functions during his time in office, and that the late president’s favorite flavor was licorice–just like mine!
After the tour, we had some food at the Jelly Belly cafe, and bought some of my favorite candies–little black and red candy berries, made by Jelly Belly of course!
The Jelly Belly experience was a lot of fun, and I had enough sugar in one afternoon to make me seriously worried about Type 2 Diabetes. We also discovered that Jelly Belly offers a special Jelly Belly University tour, which gives you even more behind-the-scenes access to the factory, for a mere $50 per person. Needless to say–and to paraphrase the former governor of our new state–”WE’LL BE BACK!”