The Bean of Choice

By Darlene Fuchs on Email

Shortly after the Civil War, in 1867, Gustav Goelitz and his younger brother Albert traveled to America from their family home in the Harz Mountain region of Germany. It is the highest mountain chain in northern Germany, occupying parts of the German states of Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia.  Within two years, Gustav Goelitz bought an ice cream and candy store in Belleville, IL, and his brother Albert sold the candy to the surrounding towns from a horse-drawn wagon.

Soon after they jumped on the band wagon of candy innovations by making a new type of candy, then called “buttercream” candies, which includes Candy Corn; a sweet they’ve made since about 1900 (which is still made with the same recipe.)

The great-great jelly bean ancestor first appeared in the 1800s, but jelly candies of one kind or another have been around for thousands of years. “Turkish delight;” a citrus, honey, and rose-water jell, has been putting smiles on kids’ faces since biblical times.

The years of World War I were apparently difficult for Goelitz Confectionary. Herman, one of  Gustav’s sons, departed for California to found his own business. He set up Herman Goelitz Candy Company in Oakland in 1922 and carried on with his family’s famous recipe for candy corn. Because of the difficulty of shipping candy long distances, the industry of that era was strictly regional, so Herman’s new company was not in competition with the North Chicago Goelitz Confectionary.

While licorice, chocolates, and peppermints were available, butter creams kept the business growing for the next five decades. The single best seller? Candy Corn, a soft, three-color candy that was made by a painstaking pouring process.

The 1920s were good years for the two companies, but then the Great Depression spread across the country sweeping up businesses and jobs. In one year alone, 878 candy manufacturers went into bankruptcy. Cash in banks was lost and sales plummeted. Candy corn, which sold for 16¢ a pound in 1920, was going for 8½¢ ten years later.

While consumption of candy declined during the Depression, it soared 30% during World War II. Even as production was limited by sugar rationing and manpower shortages, the Goelitz companies worked at top capacity. Because chocolate was also rationed, and most of it was consigned to soldiers fighting overseas, non-chocolate candy, such as the Goelitz companies specialized in, saw something of a resurgence. After the war, growth in candy consumption jumped up an astonishing 60 percent. It had been the worst of times and the best of times.

In 1975, skyrocketing prices for sugar squeezed the candy business as buyers held back orders in hopes of waiting out the crisis. The bottom fell out of the market, and many in the industry went out of business. The North Chicago plant shut down for a couple of months to buy time.  It was in this environment that the biggest change in the history of the family was about to take place.

David Klein, a driver for a candy distributor in Los Angeles, had a childhood dream to create “the Rolls Royce of jelly beans.” Since Jelly Belly (formerly known as Herman Goelitz Candy Co.) enjoyed a reputation for quality, David knew they could turn the vision into a reality.

The candy-makers cooked up a recipe for a new kind of jelly bean — intensely flavored throughout, with natural ingredients for flavoring whenever possible. In 1976, the first eight flavors of this small, intensely flavored jelly bean were born: Very Cherry, Lemon, Cream Soda, Tangerine, Green Apple, Root Beer, Grape, and Licorice. Ironically, these are still some of the most popular flavors made. They were called Jelly Belly’s Jelly Beans, the name derived from a rhyme with Leadbelly, the 1920s blues singer.

Sales grew, then grew some more. Jelly Belly beans were flying out the door at an increasing rate. California needed additional production to meet the sales so the two cousins reunited the candy making family into a single company for the first time in five decades.

The gourmet beans rocketed to fame during Ronald Reagan’s first campaign for president in 1980. The press commented on Reagan’s jelly bean habit and Jelly Bellies suddenly got enormous exposure. Goelitz came up with a new flavor – Blueberry – in order to provide red, white and blue Jelly Bellies for Reagan’s inauguration and Herman Rowland donated three-and-a-half tons of beans for the festivities.

A jar of Jelly Bellies were on the table for all of his meetings, making them an integral part of the Reagan administration. Herman Goelitz, Inc. supplied a standing order for up to 60 cases of Jelly Bellies every month, which were distributed throughout the White House, Capitol Hill, Air Force One, and numerous government agencies. And guess what? Jelly Belly was also the first jelly bean in outer space. As a presidential surprise for the astronauts, free-floating, weightless Jelly Belly beans were sent on the space shuttle Challenger in 1983.

By 1981 plants in both Illinois and California were running round-the-clock shifts but they still could not keep up with orders.

Goelitz executives worried that Jelly Bellies were just a fad, but this was not the case. The company opened a new plant and corporate headquarters in Fairfield, California, in 1986. By 1992, the company had to double the size of the plant.

The company makes a full range of candy products, but Jelly Bellies account for about 70 percent of sales. Herman Goelitz still manufactures candy corn and confections for all the major seasons. The company continues to operate out of headquarters in Fairfield, California, as well as manufacturing facilities in Fairfield and in North Chicago, Illinois. Goelitz also runs one freestanding retail store to sell its candies, in addition to stores attached to its manufacturing plants. The plant near Kenosha, Wisconsin, features a store and restaurant, as well as expanded production facilities.

Today, Jelly Belly is the world’s #1 gourmet jelly bean, producing 50 amazing and tasty flavors. Great grandpa Gustav would be proud.


Photos © Gog LlundainBrandon Dilbeck

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Darlene Fuchs