The Untold Truth Of Jelly Belly

The first jelly beans were created by an unknown American candy maker in the 1800s. The candy, soft on the inside and hard on the outside, was shaped like a bean because, well, beans were a big part of the American diet at the time. A lot has changed in candy technology since then, including the type of jelly bean that most people are familiar with. Today, when you think of jelly beans, there's a good chance that you think of Jelly Belly.

Jelly Belly beans are far and away, the most popular type of jelly beans out there. People eat enough of the 0.75-inch beans in a year to circle the globe more than five times. If you can think of a flavor, there's likely an exact or similar Jelly Belly flavor, whether that's barf and stinky socks (not kidding) or cherry and coconut. But there's a lot more to the candy than wacky flavors. Here's everything you need to know about Jelly Belly jelly beans, from its candy corn past to its journeys into space.

Jelly Belly started as a company specializing in candy corn

While Jelly Beans define the Jelly Belly Candy Co. today, the company first earned its fame as the maker of another treat: candy corn. Sometime around 1898, what was then known as the Goelitz Confectionery Company in Cincinnati, Ohio started to make candy corn. According to a history published by the company, candy corn made Goelitz the "king of the candy corn fields," and helped the company stay in business through the Depression and both world wars. In fact, the company is the longest candy corn making company in history.

Candy corn was innovative in its own right at the time, and it was an intensive candy to make before modern mechanization. Candy makers laid down each layer of melted candy by hand at just the right measurement for each of the three colors, so the work was strenuous and required intense precision, to say the least. These layers made candy corn stand out compared to all of the solid-colored candies back in the day. Today, candy corn is much more of a love it or hate it treat than jelly beans, but the Jelly Belly Candy Co. still makes and sells candy corn year-round.

There was a real "Mr. Jelly Belly" who was named David Klein

The Jelly Belly beans that people know and love today are all thanks to David Klein. In 1976, Klein made his mark on the candy world by creating a new type of jelly bean that had a flavored inside as well as a flavored outer shell. These jelly beans also used flavors that were unconventional for the time, like watermelon, licorice, and root beer. He dubbed his creation the Jelly Belly in honor of the musician Lead Belly, according to the Tampa Bay Times, making him Mr. Jelly Belly, a moniker he proudly promoted.

When the Associated Press caught wind of his candy and his Jelly Belly store, Klein arranged for a line of fake customers to wait outside his Southern California business. It worked, and his fame skyrocketed. He appeared as a guest on the late-night The Mike Douglas Show in 1977, where he was introduced as Mr. Jelly Belly while wearing a giant hat and shirt with the Jelly Belly logo.

He made other promotional appearances as well, including a photo in People magazine where he's shirtless in a Jelly Belly filled bathtub. By end of the decade, Klein's stint as Mr. Jelly Belly was coming to a close. He sold all rights to the Jelly Belly brand to the Goelitz Candy Company, which was making Goelitz Mini Jelly Beans at the time, in 1980 for $4.8 million.

Ronald Reagan made Jelly Belly beans a staple in the White House

Before Ronald Reagan became president, he was a man with a pipe smoking habit. He started to eat Goelitz Mini Jelly Beans to help quit pipe smoking around the same time that he ran to be the governor of California. Oakland-based Herman Goelitz Candy Company supplied Reagan with monthly shipments to help him kick the habit during Reagan's two terms, according to the Reagan Library. The shipments continued after his time in the California office, though they changed to shipments of Jelly Belly beans rather than the Goelitz beans starting in 1976.

The relationship was still going strong when Reagan won the presidential election in 1980. The inauguration featured red, white, and blue Jelly Beans (in fact, a blueberry flavor was created for the very occasion), and that was just the start. Regular Jelly Belly shipments went to the White House during Reagan's two terms, and he was known to pass a jar around before meetings. It was as much a welcoming gesture as an information gathering one, by some accounts.

"You can tell a lot about a fella's character by whether he picks out all of one color or just grabs a handful," Reagan said, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

The relationship was good for the Jelly Belly sellers, too. One year after word got out about Reagan's candy preference, sales went from $8 million to $16 million, according to The New York Times.

Jelly Belly has gone from eight flavors to more than 100

When the Herman Goelitz Candy Company started working with the Jelly Belly brand in 1976, there were eight flavors: Very Cherry, Root Beer, Cream Soda, Tangerine, Green Apple, Lemon, Licorice, and Grape. More and more were added over time, as well as more categories of flavors. Buttered Popcorn, the first savory flavor, came out in 1989, and a series of sour beans were released in 1993. Most famous among Harry Potter fans were the collaboration jelly beans Bertie Botts Every Flavored Beans released in 2000. 

The total number of flavors created over the years tops 100, according to the company. Today, there are around 50 official flavors. The most popular include Buttered Popcorn, Very Cherry, Cotton Candy, Watermelon, and Green Apple. It appears there's always room for more, however, and collaborations are fair game as well. Jelly Belly has made flavors with the likes of Dr. Pepper, A&W Root Beer, and Tabasco, to name a few. To keep fans in the loop, the company has a  "new flavors" page on the Jelly Belly website to let fans know about any new additions.

The company name changed to Jelly Belly in 2001

The Goelitz family included the family name when they opened their first candy company at the turn of the 20th century. That name stayed for more than a hundred years through mergers, changes in location, and split headquarters. At the start of the Jelly Belly era in the 1970s, there were two Goelitz-owned companies: the Herman Goelitz Candy Company headquartered in California, and the Goelitz Confectionery Company headquartered near Chicago. 

Then, in 2001, the two merged and took on the name of their most popular product to officially become the Jelly Belly Candy Company, according to the company history. The change in name didn't necessarily mean a change in focus — the company notes that the Jelly Belly Candy Company made more than 100 types of candy at the time — but it did reflect what product most of the brand's sales came from. Jelly Belly jelly beans made up 85 percent of sales in 2008, according to The New York Times.

Jelly Belly's chairman came under fire for donating to an anti-transgender rights fund

Herman G. Rowland Sr., the grandson of original company founder Gustav Goelitz, helped fund an effort to repeal a California law that protected transgender rights in 2013. He donated $5,000 to what was called Privacy for All Students, a group that aimed to repeal a state bill that requires transgender students be allowed to "participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil's records," according to HuffPost. Rowland was the chairman of the board at Jelly Belly Candy Company when he made the donation. 

The 2013 donation came back to haunt the company in 2015 after actress Anna Kendrick tweeted, "Just randomly discovered Jelly Belly donated to anti-trans-students campaign in 2013. Know any good alternatives for my jelly bean cravings?" It also led to a #BoycottJellyBelly campaign on Facebook, according to Business Insider. The backlash never caused a big enough reaction for any business changes to take place, however, as Rowland is the chairman of the board to this day.

Jelly Belly made Sport Beans for athletes, and then were sued for false advertising

When you think of what a Jelly Belly can do for you, "increase athletic performance" probably isn't what first comes to mind. But that just means you aren't eating the right Jelly Belly jelly beans. Sport Beans jelly beans are designed for athletes and are filled with carbohydrates, electrolytes, and vitamins B1, B2, B3, and C. There are more than 20 different types of Sports Beans with different attributes, including Energizing Jelly Beans that are loaded with caffeine "to help fuel the body during intense exercise." That's not all that's giving Jelly Belly some athletics bona fides. The company had a long-running cycling team up until 2018.

Not everyone is going along with the health aspects of Sport Beans, though. In 2017, a California woman named Jessica Gomez filed a lawsuit against Jelly Belly Candy Co. for deceiving customers by labeling sugar as "evaporated cane juice." The two are one and the same, but the lawsuit argues the phrasing was chosen "to make the product appear even more appropriate for athletes and less like a candy," according to the Los Angeles Times.

Jelly Belly's response: "This is nonsense." The court agreed and quickly dismissed the case, meaning you can still grab your Sports Beans whenever you'd like with the full knowledge that evaporated cane juice is simply sugar.

Jelly Belly beans have been sent to space

Reagan's love for Jelly Bellys didn't just put the candy in the White House, it put them in space, too. A stockpile of jelly beans was loaded on the space shuttle Challenger in 1983 along with the first American woman astronaut, Sally Ride, by request of President Reagan, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. The red, yellow, black, and white beans came straight from the president in a plastic zip-lock bag with "Compliments of the White House" written on it, according to a UPI news report at the time.

It was great publicity for Jelly Belly and also appeared to be great fun for the astronauts. Television cameras caught the astronauts tossing the beans into zero gravity and catching them in their mouths. Official photos from the trip captured the beans in the hands of the astronauts as well. Co-pilot Frederick Hauck reportedly tossed them to Ride and astronaut John Fabian, and the UPI story details that Hauck was photographed making a "famous grab" out of the air as well.

Jelly Belly isn't alone in candy space endeavors. A bevy of candies have made it out of this world, including M&M's, Twix, Milky Way, Mentos, candy corn, Sweet Tarts, Snickers, Starburst, and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

Jelly Belly's beer-flavored jelly beans didn't go over well with parents

There's just about every flavor of Jelly Belly imaginable, but it took until 2014 for the company to release a beer flavored bean. That year, Jelly Belly released a hefeweizen-inspired Draft Beer Jelly Belly as an homage to the original founder's German ancestry. The golden colored Jelly Belly had a sweet wheat taste with a "mildly bready" aroma. But in this case, despite it smelling like beer and tasting like beer, it had no actual beer.

"This took about three years to perfect," Ambrose Lee, the Jelly Belly research and development manager, said in a 2014 statement. "The recipe includes top secret ingredients, but I can tell you it contains no alcohol."

Some parents weren't exactly thrilled at the thought of beer-flavored jelly beans. People complained on the Jelly Belly Facebook page that the flavor would encourage underage drinking and harm recovering alcoholics, according to Business Insider. What those people seemed to forget is that Jelly Belly has made alcohol flavors since 1977 when it debuted a Mai Tai flavor. Strawberry Daiquiri, Piña Colada, Margarita, and Mojito flavors have also joined the Jelly Belly line up at various times over the years. The concerns didn't force the candy company to slow its alcohol flavors. Today, you can still buy a line of Draft Beer beans as well as a line of Cocktail Classics.

There are official Jelly Belly combination recipes

There are two primary types of Jelly Belly eaters in this world: Those who eat them one by one to cherish each individual flavor, and those who grab a handful at once. In the middle are those who treat each flavor like an ingredient in a recipe by combining two or more to make something entirely new. For that middle group of people, Jelly Belly created official jelly bean "recipes" that are easy to follow.

Take, for example, tres leches cake. There's no single bean for the beloved dessert, but you'll get close to the taste if you combine one French Vanilla bean, two Coconut, one Buttered Popcorn, and two Toasted Marshmallows. Or you can opt for a Jelly Belly tequila sunrise when you're itching for a cocktail by mixing two Margarita beans, one Sunkist orange, and one Very Cherry. Some mixes are as simple as eating two beans at once — poached pear in raspberry sauce made with one Juicy Pear bean and one Raspberry bean, for example, or cola made by mixing one Lime and one Cinnamon bean. The long list of official combinations goes on.

Combining flavors has been a popular enough pastime that Jelly Belly created a line called Recipe Mix that uses one flavor for the outer shell and another for the inside. Though it's arguably more fun to play chef yourself.

Very Cherry has been the most popular Jelly Belly except for a short few years

Very Cherry was among the first eight flavors released in 1976. Sometimes people get things right on the first try, and this was one of those times. According to the company, Very Cherry was the most popular flavor until 1998. That year, the then-new Buttered Popcorn flavor took first place. Apparently, people were excited about the first savory flavor, but not for long. Very Cherry took the top spot back in 2003 when it sold a "mere" 8 million more beans than the number two Buttered Popcorn. Jelly Belly posits that the reason for its popularity is the use of real cherry juice when making the candy.

Jelly Belly has found many ways to capitalize on the lasting love for Very Cherry. There is a Very Cherry snow cone syrup, and Very Cherry lollipops and candy canes. Then there are the Jelly Belly Jelly Bean Chocolate Dips with Very Cherry inside, which taste something like a chocolate-covered cherry. The many ways to try Very Cherry is a big plus, as chocolate-covered Buttered Popcorn just doesn't have the same ring to it.

The original Mr. Jelly Belly started a Willy Wonka-esque treasure hunt

Klein may have invented the original Jelly Belly, but he hasn't been involved with the company since the 1980s. That didn't stop him from starting a treasure hunt to win a candy factory just like Willy Wonka, though.

In September 2020, Klein announced that he's selling 1,000 tickets in each state for $49.99. One of those tickets will be a golden ticket in the shape of a gold-colored dog tag, according to CNN. Whoever gets it wins $5,000, a candy making course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a candy factory to start their own company. Klein told CNN that part of the inspiration behind the contest was that "the world needs something positive to get their minds off their problems."

The treasure hunt announcement was big on promises but short on details. So much so that the Jelly Belly Candy Company had to distance itself from the competition. In an official statement posted on Facebook, the company made clear that it is in no way involved and that it "has not had a relationship with Mr. Klein since 1980 when it acquired the trademark" for Jelly Belly.