Okay, now that you've got your lab coat, ear plugs, and hair caps on, we are going in.
The first thing you notice is the smell - the day I was there, it was cinnamon, but with cherry too. Sweet, but not too much - delicious! The first area we visit is giant - these huge trays are getting loaded with this clear gloop. There is one Ooompa Loompa operating this giant machine - the trays get filled with gloop (aka gelatin) and once they are all filled they go into some giant ovens. It's all automated and the Ooompa Loompa is very friendly and shows us the high-speed controls and monitors. I am impressed and fascinated, especially when Cindy grabs a piece of gelatin and lets us try it. The naked gelatin is the base for the Hot Tamales, Jolly Joes, Mike and Ikes, etc. It's small (no layers of flavor and color yet) and has a light sweet flavor - fairly neutral.
This operation makes a LOT of these gelatin pieces. I don't know exactly how many are made each day but the Just Born website http://www.justborn.com/ says that if you lined up each piece of Mike and Ike candies produced in one year end-to-end, they would reach around the earth THREE TIMES! (And that doesn't include the Hot Tamales!)
There are bins and carts full of these candies as they move through the factory during the processing. It's a beautiful thing!!
The naked gelatin pieces get placed into these cool metal barrels - they are giant balls with a smaller round opening and they spin the gelatin pieces around and around. Ooompa Loompas (sorry Just Bornites - I didn't get to know anyone's name! You were all too busy working!) tend these barrels adding confectioners sugar, color and other ingredients as needed. As the gelatin pieces circle, they pick up the colors and flavors. The smell of cherry was even more powerful up here and it was mouth-watering! Cindy told us if there weren't powerful exhaust fans working, the air would be so thick with powdered sugar it would be unbreathable. Hey, there could be worse ways to go!
Cindy even showed us the lab and told us about flavor brokers. Now here is how little I know about the candy business. I've always pictured people at all these companies sitting around a table trying flavors they or their employees had developed. Oh no - there are flavor brokers who travel company to company to sell them new flavors!! Can you imagine? The flavor broker shows up - and makes his pitch - "Hey, we've got hot new flavors - kiwi strawberry, passion fruit and (glaack) lavender." There's no pow-wow of Willie Wonka and the Ooompa Loompas - there's a salesman!! Who knew?
There are a lot of variations on Mike & Ikes:
Original Fruits (the ones we grew up with)
Jolly Joes (all grape)
There are also Zours and two types of Hot Tamales. Oh - and Jelly Beans - spice and berry flavors and the new Teeny Beenies. So far all I've tried have been awesome. Except the Zours - too sour for me.
The process of packaging all these candies is cool too - it's all automated with some Oompa Loompa monitoring. And I can't really describe the process - but the labels for the bags start as rolls of plastic. They go into the machine which makes a tube out of them, seals one end, pours in just the right amount of candy and seals the bag. It happens fast and the bags pour off the line. Same for those that are packed in boxes. It is fascinating to watch.
You know what's next, right? PEEPS!!!!!!!
And there are two new colors for 2009!!!!
But before we go there....Just Born also bought Goldberg's Peanut Chews. But these aren't made in Bethlehem. Which is probably smart with all those people with peanut allergies. I'm sad for those people. I love the peanut - peanut butter, Reese's Pieces, Butterfinger, peanut butter cookies, peanut butter pie. Oh, sorry. I was having a peanut butter moment.
Let me show you how much candy they gave me at Just Born:
I am the luckiest girl in the world!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
No Peeps Today, Peeps Tomorrow!