Monday 27 January 2014

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The Jelly Belly Factory Tour

There's only a few different ways that you can win an actual "Father of the Year" award from your children. One is to be rich and let them do whatever they want...there's no chance of that happening in our house. Another way is to spend every spare moment doting on your children, focusing solely on their spiritual, physical and educational needs while foregoing your own personal health and well-being. Strike two for my kids. The third method however, is a far easier path than the other two. Remembering that the only votes you need for this award are those of your children, the simplest way to be declared "Father of the Year" is to take your kids to a candy factory. Since Willy Wonka is fictional, this is how we found ourselves on the Jelly Belly factory tour

Fairfield, California, candy, tour

Now based out of Fairfield, California, the Jelly Belly company can be traced back almost 150 years to a small candy store in Belleville, Illinois. Gustav Goelitz began the company in 1869 and while the business was successful enough to be passed down from generation to generation, it wasn't until almost 100 years later in 1966 that the company was truly noticed. Sometimes though, it's who notices you that makes all the difference. In this case, the person doing the noticing was California Governor Ronald Regan, and when Governor Regan became President Regan in 1980, his trusted jar of Jelly Belly beans made the move with him to Washington, D.C. Eventually the world couldn't help but notice the ever present jar of jelly beans in the president's office and the Jelly Belly company was finally brought to the attention of a candy loving country.

jelly bean art, Jelly Belly, Ronald Regan
Regan inauguration captured in jelly beans

Jelly Belly relocated to Fairfield, California in 1986, giving them 27 years to get things smoothed out before our visit so I was fairly sure that everything would be prepared for our arrival. Coincidentally, 27 years is also the amount of lead time I need to get my kids out of bed in the morning, although I will say that the phrase "It's time to go to the candy factory" helps speed things along immensely. We arrived at the Jelly Belly factory just after it opened at 9 am. There were plans to take some pictures outside the building before heading in, but apparently one member of our group wasn't willing to wait any longer before getting inside.

Fairfield California, factory, tour

Upon entering, the first thing you're going to notice is long, roped off queue area. It looks like it's designed to hold hundreds of people (very similar to the line when I'm signing autographs), but early on a Sunday morning there were only about 20 people in line for a tour. Realistically this is about a perfect number for the factory tour as it allows everybody easy sightlines to everything and makes the distribution of samples much more expedient. Tours leave every 15 minutes and last about 40 minutes each. Fashion note: everybody on the factory tour must wear a hat. If you didn't happen to bring one of your own, you'll be allocated one of these premium pieces of headgear...

candy, tour, jelly beans, Napa

The tour takes place on an elevated walkway high above the factory floor. As our visit happened to fall on a weekend, the factory wasn't operating, but it was still very impressive to see the amount and types of machinery that go into producing the jelly beans. There are monitors mounted all along the walkway and at each stop we were shown a video clip about what happens in that area of the factory. I found it really interesting, but if the tour guide ever found anybody's interest waning all she had to do was start a sentence with "Now we're going to let you try a sample of...." and everybody's head would snap back around to see what kind of treat was being offered. We got to try jelly beans both before and after the shell was applied, and some new and different flavors that aren't widely available just yet. At the end of the tour we were each given a souvenir bag of Disney jelly beans and released into the gift shop. By the way, there is no photography allowed on the tour, but they do take your picture before you start and you are given the option to buy a copy at the conclusion of your tour.

Fairfield, California, tour, factory

The gift shop had a great sampling of all their products, including stuff that is only available at the factory itself. My daughters bought some Harry Potter jelly beans to take home to their friends, my son found the free samples of fudge being given out at the chocolate counter, and Lori and I loaded up on bags of rejects. Jelly Belly runs a pretty tight ship when it comes to the quality of their product, so it's only natural that there are plenty of beans produced that don't make it into the final product. They package these beans into two pound bags and sell them as a product called "Belly Flops", my new favorite road trip snack!

jelly beans, rejects, bulk, Jelly Belly
Then came the moment I'd been waiting for. My daughter came up to me and said "Dad...I've got something for you." Expecting a band to play and confetti to drop at any moment, I began to get my acceptance speech ready for my Father of the Year award, only to find out that what my daughter had were some jelly beans she had picked out for me from the sample bar in some rather unique flavors. I was presented with three jelly beans to try; one dog food flavored, one rotten egg flavored, and one barf flavored. Not exactly the kind of reward you'd figure would come with a Father of the Year award, but I reasoned that perhaps it was one last test to confirm my worthiness of the title. Dutifully I tried each of the three beans, and although I suspect that some of the flavoring may be psychological, each of the beans really were as awful as their names would suggest.

Amused by the anguish on my face, my children headed back off to the sample bar to see what else they could make Dad eat, but my patience was growing thin. I pulled my wife aside and asked her when I could expect to receive my prestigious award. After all, I had brought my children to a candy factory. This should be a done deal by now. My wife looked at me blankly and asked if I remembered taking my daughter to the dentist just before our trip. Of course I did. That $7K bill for her braces was the reason that we were in San Francisco and not on a beach in Aruba or somewhere more exotic. What did that have to do with anything?

And that's when I found out that people with braces aren't allowed to eat jelly beans. Who knew? I mean, thinking back I did remember my daughter giving me all her samples while we were on the tour, but I just assumed that it was because she was so proud of me and my impending Father of the Year status. Apparently those words being muttered under her breath weren't actually words of admiration. I had brought my candy loving daughter to a candy factory full of free samples where she wasn't actually allowed to try anything. Whoops. Looks like another year of winning the "Worst Father of the Year" award. That makes 15 years in a row now. Fortunately I have a speech permanently prepared for that honor.

Fairfield, California, exit

Written by Steve Pratt