The company, founded by a German immigrant in 1869, offers a warehouse tour as sugary as the widgets it produces. At 9 a.m., when the craving for coffee is stronger than the yen for candy, I rendezvoused with anthropomorphic jelly beans and a chirpy guide named Amanda, whose enthusiasm at that hour was set on Sugar High. She escorted us to the brightly decorated train, then, in her serious conductor voice, warned us not to stand up, snap pictures while moving or remove our paper sanitation hats.
The train, which circuited the warehouse floor, stopped at different stations along the route. We’d often pause at a bean-shaped screen, beneath a ceiling of giant hanging jelly beans. Though my mind often drifts at the sound of a corporate fact sheet, it stayed put. I was glad it stuck around, or I might never have known that:
●Ronald Reagan, a Jelly Belly fan from the governor’s mansion to the White House, favored licorice-flavored beans. America’s No. 1 flavor is Very Cherry, which supplanted the previous front-runner, Buttered Popcorn, five years ago.
●Some of the failed flavors include mac ’n’ cheese, nachos, ketchup and mustard.
●The newest flavor is candy corn, which means that the company has come full circle: The Goelitz family started the business making candy corn.
●If you behave, Amanda will give you a free bag of Jelly Bellys.
At the end of the tour, as in all factory tours, visitors are given one exit route — through the gift shop. A sampling station stood between me and my car. I couldn’t be rude and snub it, now could I?
An older woman in a hairnet was scooping up the beans and placing them in open palms. Despite the 50 core flavors, gross-out BeanBoozleds and various confections and special series (cocktail classics, Snapple, sours, etc.), there was no limit on samples. You could go down the line, from Berry Blue to Wild Blackberry, Centipede to Skunk Spray, then reverse order.
“Can we get an earwax and a booger?” ordered a woman ahead of me in line.
When it was my turn, I had a few questions for Cathy before I could commit.
Q: What does baby wipe taste like?
A: “It tastes like it smells, then like talc.”
Q: How did they end up with vomit?