Jelly Belly flop

Walking at breakneck speed, Arthur pointed out the sorting machines, the polishing devices and the enormous dryers.

April 9, 2010 22:31
3 minute read.
Jelly Belly flop

jelly belly flop new 311. (photo credit: Brian Blum)


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I have to confess up front: I have never been a fan of jelly beans. But after a recent visit to the very center of jelly bean heaven – the Jelly Belly factory in California, where I saw how the pint-sized multicolored candies are concocted – now I’m totally disgusted.

Ironically, if we hadn’t been Israeli, the whole travesty might never even have happened.

We were visiting my mom in Northern California. Google Maps said that it should take us an hour and 15 minutes to drive to the factory. But Google didn’t count on Friday afternoon traffic. About 10 minutes before our destination, the road slowed to a near standstill.

We still had 45 minutes left until the factory closed. How bad could this jam be? Pretty bad, it turned out.

When we finally got to the Jelly Belly factory, it was half an hour after the last tour left.

My wife, Jody, jumped out of the car and raced straight inside, while I looked for a parking space. She told the man at the desk our story and asked if we could join the last tour in progress.

“No, that’s not possible,” John, the floor manager, told Jody. “But I can give you a hat!” It was little consolation for a two-and-a-half-hour drive. Never one to give up, Jody tried a different tactic.

“We’ve just come 27 hours from Israel,” she said, stretching the chronology a bit. “I’m sure you can find a guide free now who could give us a private tour.”

Such hutzpa. It was akin to cutting into a line in the supermarket and announcing, “I was after her.” After 15 years in the Middle East, we must have integrated into Israeli society!

John, however, looked quite flustered. This wasn’t the way the locals talk. He turned to his assistant nervously. “Is Arthur around?” he asked. He was. “OK, run them through. But fast.”

That was good enough for us. We donned our complementary Jelly Belly hats, looking like a troop of confectionery Popeyes. Walking at breakneck speed, Arthur pointed out the sorting machines, the polishing devices, the enormous dryers and the robots that reject the duds and stamp the ubiquitous Jelly Belly label on freshly minted beans.

We learned that Jelly Belly was started in 1976 and that the company produces some 34 million pounds of product a year. Former US president Ronald Reagan was a fan and Jelly Bellies even found their way into outer space, stowing away on the 1983 Challenger shuttle as an astro-surprise.

All good fun. But there was a dark side. Arthur proudly gestured to several large vats of chemicals containing languid pools of artificial coloring and sweeteners. I recoiled.

I know that the fast-food industry is riddled with less-than-edible additives, but seeing barrels of the stuff before our very eyes made me loath to even touch a chemically altered treat. They look so innocent. What a cynical bait and switch.

Jelly Belly positions itself as a maker of “gourmet” jelly beans. Downstairs in the store, 50 “official” flavors beckoned with their cheerful monikers: Marshmallow, Dr. Pepper, Bubble Gum, Cantaloupe, Very Cherry, Chocolate Pudding and many more.

Jelly Belly also offers some truly atrocious flavors – clearly intended to gross out even your five-year-old neighbors. The offending flavors were all tricked up – perhaps in homage to “Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans” in the Harry Potter books – to look exactly like the legitimate Belly variety.

• “Barf” looked like peach.

• “Booger” was the same color as juicy pear.

• Caramel corn corresponded with “moldy cheese.”

• And last on the list: “rotten egg” masquerading as buttered popcorn.

Despite my consternation, Jelly Belly continues to expand its global reach. Last year, the company opened its first “concept store” in Israel in Herzliya’s Cinema City mall. And for those of you concerned about kashrut, Jelly Belly recently upgraded its rabbinical supervision.

That’s right, vomit flavored beans are now officially OU. Ingest at your own risk.

The writer writes the This Normal Life blog and heads up the social media content development firm Blum Interactive Media.

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