Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Sweet Two Decades: Jelly Belly Gives Fairfield Instant Recognition

A Sweet Two Decades: Jelly Belly Gives Fairfield Instant Recognition
By Brad Stanhope

Quality control inspector Camilo Montenegro checks the jelly beans for imperfections before they are packaged and shipped. (Zachary Kaufman/Daily Republic)

FAIRFIELD - When Fairfield Mayor Harry Price travels, his city's flagship business always catches attention.

"As soon as you say Jelly Belly, they know, they know," he said. "Jelly Belly opens the door. People always say it with a smile."

Price - who often quotes ex-mayor George Pettygrove's description of Fairfield as "the sweetest city west of the Mississippi" because of its connection to the candy manufacturer - takes the jelly beans with him for gifts. Whether its members of Congress, workers at the Pentagon or business people, Jelly Bellys are a favorite.

Former mayor Gary Falati - who helped lure the company here 20 years ago - gives Jelly Belly credit for making the city known.

"It put Fairfield on the map, that's what it did," he said. "It's a world-class name - along with Travis Air Force Base and Anheuser-Busch. People recognize all three."

It's been that way for two decades. This is a landmark year for Jelly Belly - it was 30 years ago the Herman Goelitz Candy Co. invented Jelly Bellys and 20 years ago that the company moved its headquarters to Fairfield. That year it also began offering tours - it was named the best factory tour in America by Readers Digest in 2005 - and last month, the company celebrated the 3 millionth visitor by showering Chuck LaGrave of Hercules with balloons and his weight in belly flops - the popular misshapen beans.

Since 1986, Jelly Belly and Fairfield have been joined, with the candy company drawing hundreds of thousands of people annually to the Jelly Belly Lane complex. In fact, next weekend's Candy Festival in downtown Fairfield is largely due to the impact of Jelly Belly.

"It's the flagship for economic development here," Price said.

'A coup for Fairfield'

While Jelly Belly wasn't the first company in the now-thriving Solano Business Park - Anheuser-Busch was - it was crucial.

"Getting Jelly Belly was a major coup for Fairfield," Falati said. "Every community would be blessed to have a Jelly Belly. They're so involved in the community - they're simply first class and the people that work with them are first class."

And Jelly Belly, run by company founder Herman Goelitz's grandson Herm Rowland, has increased in size since arriving, growing from the original 100,000-square-foot factory to a sprawling 35-acre, five-building campus with nearly a 500,000 square feet of office and factory space.

In 1986, it was simply a good acquisition for the city, which landed a company that needed space to grow after President Ronald Reagan helped make it a cultural phenomenon.

"One attraction was the affordable land and homes for their employees," Falati said.

"It was a huge shift," said Tomi Holt, who has worked for the company since 1984 and now runs public relations for it. "Herm's vision was to build a new factory. He found property in Fairfield and it was nothing but fields."

John Pola, then a salesman but now the company's vice president of sales, recalled the opening of the new plant.

"The day of the grand opening, we looked out at a field," he said. "I remember thinking it must have been a good deal on the land . . . it was so empty. I thought 'Oh my God, was this the right decision?' "

The Reagan impact

How Jelly Belly became wildly popular - necessitating the move to Fairfield - is a story that is part of candy lore. The Herman Goelitz Candy Co. operated in Oakland for more than five decades with modest success until 1976 when - acting on the suggestion of a Los Angeles-based entrepreneur, who wanted a jelly bean made from natural ingredients - they created the Jelly Belly, a "gourmet treat." Made with fruit juices and other natural flavors, the new - and more expensive - candy began to gain a foothold in the market.

Then President Reagan discovered them - using them as a device to stop smoking. By the time he was elected in 1980, news outlets were running with the story of how he fancied Jelly Bellys which served to increase the popularity. For Reagan's inauguration, organizers ordered 7,000 pounds of red, white and blue beans - and the boon started.

"It was unbelievable," said Pola, the former salesman. "Stores would call me and tell me they sold out in four days and wanted more. I would tell them I'd get it in seven or eight months. Then it became nine or 10 months."

The volume became so great the Oakland plant couldn't produce enough. So Rowland moved the company and its two dozen or so employees north to Fairfield and the business exploded. Now there are more than 400 employees in Fairfield, 700 including the distribution center in Pleasant Prairie, Wis.

Magical, mystical tour

What wasn't an attraction at the Fairfield plant - initially - become the most prominent part of the business: Factory tours.

"They were low key at the start," Holt remembered. "You had to call and find out a time. We'd take a group around the plant. A plant manager would do it in the beginning - and then people would want to know where they could buy the candy."

It got bigger and bigger.

"Within a couple of years, the volume of people became difficult to manage," Holt said. "We had to get tour guides. Then tour buses started arriving. Once we began to accommodate more people, that's when Herm Rowland decided to expand."

By 1992, the plant doubled its size, adding elevators and walkways for the tours. This year, more than 500,000 people will take the tour, said Sean Pakenham, general manager of the visitor's center.

The tours are "extremely important because it shows the consumer how much care and attention goes into the product," Holt said. "It allows them to see how it is developed. People leave as ambassadors for Jelly Belly."

That's a description that fits Verlin and Mary Belarde of Billings, Mont., who recently made their annual pilgrimage to the plant while visiting their daughter in San Rafael.

"We're here to pick out candy for our grandkids," Mary Belarde said.

Kim Larson and B.J. Lopez of San Francisco also took a tour of the plant.

"I've been here before," Larson said. "I just remember I loved it."

Larson is a Jelly Belly minority, Pakenham said, adding their surveys show that 70 percent of people who take the tours are doing it for the first time.

"And most hear about it from a relative," he said. "We've become one of the destination places - if you come to Fairfield or Vacaville or Vallejo or even Napa, it's kind of a must-see, which is great for us."

And, according to Fairfield's mayor, it's good for the town.

"Somebody gets off the freeway and does the tour and maybe they also do the Anheuser-Busch tour," Price said. "Then they're going to shop in stores and eat at restaurants."

Into a new century

While most businesses have critics, Price said there aren't many Jelly Belly detractors - "maybe a few Fairfield residents concerned about obesity and a few diabetics," he suggested.

For 20 years, the company and the city have enjoyed a love-in.

"Every single head of state got a gift from Fairfield in their hands," Pola said, referring to the Jelly Belly gifts Reagan would hand out.

And six years into a new century, Jelly Belly is still growing.

In the past few years, the company launched Bertie Bott's Jelly Beans - based on the Harry Potter books and movies - as well as sports beans and other products.

Jelly Belly also sponsors a bicycle racing team, auto racers Jim Inglebright and Jim Pace, LPGA golfer Karen Cotch, a drag racer, a steer roper, a motorcycle racer and myriad events.

"We're out there," Pola said. "Promoting Jelly Belly and Fairfield."

And like Pettygrove and Falati, Pola said the name Jelly Belly still carries magic - 30 years after its invention and 20 years in Fairfield.

"I can be in a room of 100 people and I say what I do for a living and all 100 smile," he said.

Reach Brad Stanhope at 427-6925 or bstanhope@dailyrepublic.net.


1869: Gustav Goelitz begins making candy in Belleville, Ill.

1898: Goelitz Confectionery Co. is founded in Cincinnati, Ohio.

1921: Herman Goelitz strikes out and forms his own company in Portland, Ore.

1923: Goelitz moves company from Portland, Ore., to Oakland.

1976: Jelly Belly jelly bean introduced with "natural" ingredients.

1980: Jelly Bellys become nationally prominent when presidential candidate Ronald Reagan professes his affection for them. At his inauguration in 1981, 3.5 tons of the jelly beans are consumed.

1986: Company moves headquarters from Oakland to Fairfield and begins offering tours.

1992: Plant size doubles.

2001: Company changes name to Jelly Belly Candy Co.

2006: Jelly Belly announces plans to build a plant in Thailand.

Source: Jelly Belly Candy Co.


4: Calories per Jelly Belly

5: Number of times the Jelly Bellys eaten this year would circle the earth.

7 to 21: Days it takes to make a Jelly Belly.

21: Countries in which Jelly Bellys are sold.

30: Percent of people taking the tours who are from out of state.

50: Official Jelly Belly flavors.

75: Percent of people taking the tours who are doing it for the first time.

7,000: Pounds of Jelly Bellys ordered for President Reagan's inauguration in 1980.

250,000: Pounds of Jelly Bellys per day produced by the company

500,000: Number of people expected to take the Jelly Belly Tour this year.

3,160,000: Approximate number of pages that turn up on a Google search for "Jelly Belly."

5,000,000: Number of Jelly Belly beans eaten each Easter.

34,000,000: Pounds of Jelly Bellys produced annually.

Source: Jelly Belly Candy Company

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