Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Jelly Belly Hits The Road, Won't Come Back No More, No More

The late President Ronald Reagan kept a candy jar filled with Jelly Bellies on his desk. It was the best publicity a candy could have, to be seen so conspicuously in photos taken with the President of the United States. It give reporters something to report on when news was slow. How many stories were written about the President's favorite flavor combination, and where did the favorite sweet snack come from?

The Goelitz Confection people started making candy corn in the 1890s, when the candy business was booming. By 1913, they recognized the need for more capacity and they migrated west from their Cincinnati base. They found the perfect spot in North Chicago, a manufacturing area near the booming metropolis of Waukegan, Illinois. Their neighbors were the sailors of Great Lakes Naval Training Station, a few short years away from a war that would sweep across the world. A young Ronald Reagan was toddling around Tampico, Illinois, perhaps dreaming of candy corn.

So there they were in North Chicago, making candy corn and then butter creams and chocolate malt balls and licorice and peppermints. Business thrived, through the First World War and family conflict that saw one of the Goelitz brothers go west to start his own company in Fairfield, California.

They survived the Great Depression when there was little money around for luxuries like candy. They survived the Second World War, with its rationing and shortages of sugar. The family squabble was eased and the two branches of the candy company found common ground, working together to make jelly beans.

Ronald Reagan promoted Jelly Belly jelly beans and the product took off, in spite of escalating sugar prices and increasing labor costs.

The end has been reached. The factory in North Chicago will no longer make Jelly Bellies. 70 people will lose their jobs.

The North Chicago plant will shrink because it isn't economically viable any more. The remaining workers will be shifted into contract candy production, making goods for someone else who will have to make a profit. Cheaper, private label products will come off the assembly line, without the Goelitz Confectionery name.

The cost of doing business in Illinois is too high, when coupled with sugar prices that are artificially high due to heavy lobbying by American sugar producers.

Jelly Bellies from the Land of Lincoln, boyhood home of Ronald Reagan, will cease to exist. It's fitting, in a way. Ronald Reagan left Illinois as well and never came back, remaining in California until his death. He's even buried there. In the state where Jelly Bellies continue to be made.

No comments: