Jelly Belly Factory Tour
It take seven days to make a "Jelly Belly" jelly bean. Fortunately, they are not made one at a time. Instead, they are made in giant lots in a factory that shoots out 30 tons of them every weekday. That factory, located about an hour north of San Francisco in an otherwise sterile office park off of I-80, is open for tours.
The first room of the visitors center is a Chuck E. Cheese-like cafeteria, sans animatronics, where you can order jelly bean-shaped fast foods and have your kid's birthday party in special sound-muffled rooms. Past that is the adult retail area, and the holding area for tour-goers.
Here, a large portrait of President Ronald Reagan made out of jelly beans hangs next to an image of the Jelly Belly mascot. They both have big smiles. While waiting for the tour to start, you can get up close and wonder which of the Jelly Belly's 40 flavors were used to represent The President's wrinkles and crinkles. A large display case of Reagan memorabilia adorns one wall. (For many young people, this is their first exposure to our former Commander-in-Chief: George Washington = cherry tree; Ronald Reagan = cherry jelly beans.)
Soon enough, the tour starts, and your group is given paper hats mandated by law. No pictures will be allowed (which is great, because the last thing you need is someone taking a picture of you wearing one of those paper hats). Then you ascend to the second floor, where you will look down upon the hustle and bustle of a whirring bean-hive. That is, if you come during the week. The factory is idle during the weekend, even though tours are still given.
Giant bags of sugar, rows of slowly spinning tubs of variously colored beans. Racks and racks of bean larvae, each in its own little square, waiting for the next step in the week-long process.
As you walk the perimeter above the factory floor, videos and guides help explain what is going on, and how they get the pictures of the Christmas trees in the special Christmas taffy (another confection made here). Jelly Bean trivia is dispensed, as are free samples at the end. There are forty permanent flavors of Jelly Belly. Buttered Popcorn is the most popular, while not often acquired-taste, Jalapeno, is #40. The free sample bags, in fact, are "39 Flavor" assortments.
Our favorite stop is above one of the storage areas, where six or seven large jelly bean portraits are displayed high enough to be at eye level for the tour. The portraits have not kept up with the times: we recognized Johnny Carson, Joe Montana, George H.W. Bush.
The Herman Goelitz Candy Co., makers of Jelly Belly jelly beans, runs a JB Visitor Center in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin. And a six-foot-tall 14,000-bean portrait of Reagan donated by the company hangs in RR's boyhood town of Dixon, Illinois.