Industry: Food & Beverage
Products: Jelly beans and candy
President and CEO Lisa Brasher is guiding the 120-year-old manufacturer of jelly beans into new categories and markets.
The small confectionery business founded by Gustav Goelitz more than a century ago is now an American candy icon.
The Goelitz Confectionery Company began manufacturing mellowcreme candy and candy corn from a small shop in Belleville, Illinois. By 1924, Goelitz's son, Herman, moved to California and began his own business, the Herman Goelitz Candy Company, and expanded into making jelly beans and other candy.
It wasn't until 1965 that the company created the Mini Jelly Bean. It soon became a favorite of Ronald Reagan, who famously kept a jar on the desk of the Oval Office while he was president. The company trademarked the Jelly Belly name in 1982 and renamed itself the Jelly Belly Candy Company in 2001.
Today, the company manufactures 15 billion jelly beans a year. This monumental task is currently headed by CEO Lisa Brasher, who is the fifth-generation family member to run the company. "I got my start early working during the summers in junior high school. My father would bring us to the factory and my sister and I would work in the packaging department, sweeping the floor and making boxes," says Brasher. "Eventually, I came into the business in the finance department. Over the years, I have held positions in a number of departments and served on our board of directors. I moved into my current role as president/CEO in 2015 after previously holding the position of executive vice chairman."
The process of making a Jelly Belly is not as easy as one might think. "It takes between seven and 14 days to make a Jelly Belly jelly bean," says Brasher. "There are many steps in our process and they are all necessary to achieve the perfect Jelly Belly bean."
The company's headquarters and main factory are in Fairfield, California, but it also has factories in North Chicago, Illinois, and Rayong, Thailand. "With three factories, including one international location, we have a number of vendors worldwide we work closely with to ensure we have the highest quality ingredients," says Brasher. "One of the hallmarks of Jelly Belly jelly beans is that we use natural ingredients whenever possible, and this includes fruit purees, juices from concentrate, organic ingredients, and even things like real coffee, chocolate, and coconut."
With more than 100 flavors, including a line of organic beans, the company needed to improve efficiencies to keep up with delivery times. "We don't limit our commitment to innovation to candy making," says Brasher. "We extend this to the supply chain too. Over the years, we have developed new relationships with vendors from ingredient suppliers, to shipping and logistics, to keep our company running as efficiently as possible. In the last few years, we have worked with a third-party logistics provider to improve delivery times to the Midwest and East Coast. Gone are the days of three to five days to deliver to these accounts, and that improves our retailers' businesses and ours."
Along with constantly improving its supply chain, Brasher also uses technology to find efficiencies elsewhere in the system. "We look for opportunities across the board to improve efficiency by investing in technology," says Brasher. "For example, we have further automated our packaging process by developing a number of different package types, all with different needs to pack efficiently. Automation has allowed us to improve accuracy and output. Ultimately, it doesn't matter if we can produce 1,700 Jelly Belly beans per second if we can't pack them up and ship them out in a timely and cost-productive way."
Although the company uses automation in many of its processes, it still employs more than 800 people. "Candy is such a special product that draws people to it. We think our employees find a lot of joy in the products we make, so that's an appealing element of recruitment," says Brasher. "Parts of our manufacturing are skilled, while others are more universal. Our headquarters is located in Fairfield, California, halfway between San Francisco and Sacramento. This is a beautiful area, ideal for families, so there is a built-in population that is rooted in the community. We have some multi-generational employees and I'm not talking about my own family. Over the years, we have had mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and even siblings working in various parts of our operation."
Jelly Belly continues to be one of America's favorite candies and the company continues to carry on a strong family heritage. "The Goelitz family legacy lives today in each of our family members, not just because we share the Goelitz blood and a love of candy making, but because we consciously build on the traditions they taught us. At our company, quality comes first and is never compromised."
Challenges: "The candy industry faces the well-known challenge of obesity," says Brasher. "We are upfront about the fact that we make candy, but we think that by being transparent about our products and giving consumers options in terms of smaller package sizes, we can empower them to make the best choices for themselves and their families."
The price of sugar in the U.S. is another challenge, she adds. "We pay significantly more for sugar than we would on the open market. We are working with industry leaders to talk to our political representatives about this issue. Spending less on sugar could allow us to expand, hire more employees, and reinvest in our American manufacturing."
Opportunities: "We are always looking for new opportunities for growth. We have expanded lines into sports nutrition with our Sport Beans product, and entered the organic category with Organic Jelly Beans and Fruit Flavored Snacks," says Brasher. "We also look for ways to be innovative in how we connect with consumers. We recently updated both of our North American tours with new 4K videos and interactive exhibits. Reinvesting in a tour seen by three-quarters of a million people each year lets us stay fresh and relevant."
Needs: "As we continue to invest in automation, we need skilled mechanics and journeymen to maintain the equipment," says Brasher. "We have found that many of our friends in the industry face the same need for qualified mechanics. It is an in-demand skill."