Bob Simpson ensures Jelly Belly always does right by its product line

The Jelly Belly Candy Co.’s roots go back to Gustav Goelitz opening a candy business in 1869 in Belleville, Illinois — but the introduction of the company’s namesake candy in 1976 was what really put the business on the map.

The former Herman Goelitz Candy Company was renamed in 2001, reflecting the importance of Jelly Belly beans to the business.

Jelly Belly jelly beans were a favorite of U.S. President Ronald Reagan, and proudly sit in a jar on his White House desk in a famed photo. Reagan also made them the first jelly beans in outer space, when in 1983 he sent them on the Shuttle Orbiter Challenger as a surprise for the astronauts.

Today the beans represent 85 percent of sales, according to President and COO Bob Simpson.

“We consider ourselves a full-line candy manufacturer. It helps when a customer wants a full range of candy and would like to deal with just one manufacturer,” says Simpson, who came to Jelly Belly about 15 years ago following a 30-year career with the Raley’s supermarket chain.

Although it’s a global operation, Jelly Belly remains a private, family-owned company. It’s Simpson’s job to grow the business while continuing to reflect the values handed down through the generations.


Doing what’s right for the bean

Companies nowadays all talk about the importance of culture. For Jelly Belly, the company culture is intertwined with the values of the Goelitz family.

Herman Goelitz Rowland Sr., chairman of the board, is part of the fourth generation involved in the business. This summer, his great-grandchildren will join Jelly Belly, marking a seventh generation of candy makers.

Simpson says being a family business has a significant impact on how Jelly Belly is operated.

“Working for a family-owned-and-operated business is different, and we actually use it to enhance our business model,” Simpson says, “because Herm has never been about instant results. It’s always been about achieving long-term goals and healthy growth.”

It’s important that any growth be sustainable rather than the result of trying to make some immediate impact, Simpson says. In that regard, he says Jelly Belly executives are fortunate that they don’t have to be concerned with fast growth that can be reported to shareholders. The company has only five shareholders — Rowland and his four children.

“It’s very easy to operate in those conditions,” Simpson says. “To have success over these many generations, this has been sustainable. Because we’re all about the bean, we’re all about quality. ‘Do what’s right for the bean.’ That’s a saying here that we are all guided by. It’s a guiding business principle for us.”

Patient, sustainable growth also allows Jelly Belly freedom to never compromise on quality.

“If we compromise, we’re just like everybody else,” Simpson says. “It’s always the finest ingredients. If something isn’t right, we won’t ship it. Every Jelly Belly bean has to be perfect. We screen them for size, shape and color.”

Simpson says he sees some of the same attributes at Jelly Belly that he saw with Raley’s, another family-owned enterprise.

“Quality operations, with people who are passionate about their brand and display great ethics,” he says. “At Raley’s if you were willing to work hard, and be promoted from within, you were going to have plenty of opportunities to grow with the company. It’s a similar situation here.”