Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jelly Belly Factory Tour

Jelly Belly factory

I'd find it hard to believe that we don't all have a little kid in us that wouldn't want to eat a Jelly Belly jellybean. How lucky are we that we have the factory in our own backyard. Long a staple of family outings and tourist stops, the Jelly Belly factory tour is one place that many of us find ourselves going to over and over again, myself included. My past outings had always been on weekends. Problem is, they aren't operating on the weekends. The tour goes through a quiet a building. So I took the opportunity of a recent weekday off to go and do the tour again so I could see the place in operation.

Jelly Belly gift shop

The tours run from 9 - 5 with the last tour leaving at 4. Depending on the time of day, year, and just plain luck, you could end up waiting in line for about an hour if school is out or it's a holiday. I got there bright and early on a normal weekday so that I got into the first tour of the day. Even so, the first tour didn't leave until about 9:20 and so I had a chance to do a quick run-through of the gift shop to see if there was anything new.

Finally the little paper hats were passed out and we were told to put away the cameras. Bummer. It's not like they have any secret, Willy Wonka style processes going on in there we can see. Besides, the tours are done from high above as you walk enclosed catwalks.  First stop was for picture taking. This is a new addition since I was last there. Makes sense to add it. Like so many other attractions, people want that souvenir photo and frame with you sitting next to Mr. Jelly Belly bean. Just that it takes a bit of time. I skipped around the line to wait for them to finish. We were given a couple of beans to chew on while we waited. Then we were off.

The nice thing is that there are short little videos that are shown at each stop along the catwalk. They explain a little about the history, the process, and other trivia tidbits. They also give you tasting beans along the way. First was the jelly center. They say that they put flavoring both in the jelly and in the coating. I didn't taste any flavor in the supposed red raspberry center I was given to taste. Later we got a finished wild blackberry bean and that definitely tasted like blackberry. And everyone loves that at the end of the tour each person gets a sample bag of assorted beans.

What many folks don't know is that you can go on a more intimate tour if you are willing to pay. The JB University tours are $47 and take you out in groups of six onto the actual floor of the factory. I'd love to hear from anyone who has gone on this tour.

What surprised me as I went on the weekday tour was how few employees were actually working on the floor. It was so automated with robots and conveyor belts that there were a lot less employees than I expected. But I was happy to finally see the machines in action and the beans flowing down the lines.

Most famous Jelly Belly fan, Ronald Reagan

It's always nice to see the artwork as well. Some of the pieces can take months to finish and have over a million beans.

Jelly Belly tasting line

The tasting station is a popular line. You can go through and taste a few flavors. The gross flavors are no longer related to Harry Potter because I guess they lost the contract or it expired. So now they call them BeanBoozled flavors. You can see above that there is barf, rotten egg, boogers, and more. I watched some people try those and make horrible faces. That told me to stay away from those! During the tour they made a big deal that it took forever for them to perfect kiwi. I tried it and have to say that they've still got work to do. It didn't taste like kiwi to me. My favorites are all the berry flavors, sours, and pomegranate.

There is also a fantastic chocolate counter. I successfully stayed away from purchasing any this time. Boy, was that hard. I love some of the gigantic whipped chocolate haystacks they have with all sorts of add-ins like nuts, marshmallows, chocolate chips, toffee, etc. Mmmmmmmmm.

I also found the bulk sales room by the cafeteria. They sell ten pound boxes of single flavors there as well as some other decorative and farmers market-y type stuff. If you really love one flavor, then a 10 lb. box is $90!

Most people stay in the gift store and buyout the belly flops - the reject beans that are too small, too big, or stuck together. I grabbed a bag to take up for Thanksgiving next week. I also wanted to try their soda pop and selected the green apple. They are made with cane sugar and are very brightly colored. I tried it later, at home, and found it way too sweet. I ended up pouring most of it out. Another favorite item I like is their Sport Beans which have caffeine and some electrolytes. I use these when I go on long hikes and need a burst of sugar and energy.

If you are hungry they have a large cafeteria with a lot of offerings. I've never bothered to eat there myself. But I can see that some families get caught there at lunch time or need a snack. There is also an ice cream counter with JB flavored ice creams.

If you are one of the rare locals who hasn't already gone on a Jelly Belly tour, then you are overdue. Time to venture forth and pay them a visit.

Jelly Belly car

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