Today's New Activity: Jelly Belly Factory Tour
My parents are the king and queen of plant tours. They've been all over the country, touring the likes of the Hersheys, Ben & Jerry's, Yankee Candle Company, and Celestial Seasonings factories, for example. My dad goes for the thrill of seeing the manufacturing in action, and they *both* go for the free samples at the end. It's a win-win.
I was pretty excited about today myself. I'm not even into jelly beans, but I like to see heavily automated machinery at work, and I always like behind-the-scenes peaks and anything. Cameras weren't allowed on the actual tour (I guess they were worried we'd take the pictures home and build our OWN mini-Jelly Belly plants, rendering them obsolete), but I got some pictures of the waiting area--a happy, carefree sort of place, fitting for a place that makes jelly beans:
After about 45 minutes meandering through the line, it was our turn for the tour. First things first, though: everyone had to wear a hat.
The tour itself was fascinating. I couldn't believe how precise and fast all the machines were. But even so, the various flavors take anywhere from 7-21 days to fully cure. Yes, I said cure. The process is incredibly complex. And did you know that jelly beans don't just come out that shiny somehow? They actually look pretty strange before they're put into huge metal tumbling machines that buff them up.
One thing that was very strange about the tour was how much fanfare there was surrounding Ronald Reagan. There's a whole video about how he helped popularize jelly beans (Jelly Bellies, specifically) during his state governorship and presidential campaign. There were tons of different Ronald Reagan inspired packages in the gift shop, and the only two presidents pictured in the many jelly bean art pieces were him and George W. Bush. That whole thing was a bit odd, but the portrait itself was impressive.
The last stop on the tour is the sampling counter, where a miserable looking employee answered the bean-by-bean whims of every last person passing through that plant (and there was a constant stream, to be sure). I'm not sure if there was a limit to how many individual beans a person could sample, but it didn't seem so. Poor kid.
This was the menu of option:
And this was the scary part of that menu:
These are real flavors available to you, yes you!
Our final stop was at the snack bar, where my dad got a jelly bean-shaped burger and I a pizza. That was definitely novel. Monkey's smiley fries were fun, too. The food was surprisingly good for an amusement park-like setting.
I guess a lot of people must stop at this place on cross-country trips, as the parking lot was R.V. friendly on numerous levels, not the least of which was this helpful feature:
A real-looking fire hydrant put there solely for dogs to have their way with. Nice!
The Jelly Belly Factory was a very family friendly place that I'll enjoy taking Monkey back to when he's old enough to see and understand more. But for a free tour with a complimentary bag of beans at the end, it was well worth the 45-minute drive :)