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

“We found out that the flavor notes we came up with were more consistent with a hefeweizen, a German wheat beer. That’s why research and development is so critical. It’s hard to have a savory flavor like beer carried off in a sweet environment. It took a while to get that right,” he says.

“There has to be a ‘wow’ with it. It has to be, ‘Wow, that really smells and tastes like a German wheat beer.’ We were able to do that.”

That hasn’t always been the case. Wine, like beer, has been the subject of frequent requests. But while cocktails like Strawberry Daiquiri and Piña Colada have been developed, wine has proved an elusive flavor.

“Those cocktails were easy because they have a distinct profile and a distinct ingredient makeup in your head that we can hit,” Simpson says.

Jelly Belly experimented with a pinot and a cabernet, but neither flavor worked as a jelly bean.

“It’s difficult to carry those flavors off. Beer can have a honey or sweetness profile to it, making it easier to do than wine. We’ve tried and tried, but just like with spaghetti, there are some many different varieties of wine that it’s hard to say, ‘Wow, that’s a Charles Krug chardonnay,’” Simpson says.

Simpson says the company doesn’t miss on flavors too often, and has succeeded in creating wacky flavors such as Earwax and Vomit for the Harry Potter Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans collection.

“Our focus is on being true to life and using as many natural ingredients as we can. Whenever we can find a color that acts as a natural coloring agent, that’s where we focus our research and development,” he says.

One recent example involved working with a flavor company to develop a spirulina green.

“That is a natural coloring, and it really works well,” Simpson says.

Jelly Belly has produced more than 150 different flavors of beans. The most popular varieties are sold in an assortment containing what are referred to as the 50 official flavors.

“Every now and then some, like Jalapeño, go out of the assortment and new ones move in,” Simpson says. “In the case of Jalapeño, the flavor migrated and other flavors started tasting like Jalapeño. So that was more of a quality control issue than anything else. People loved it. That just shows how true to life the flavors are.”

 

Takeways

  • Steady, sustainable growth is preferable to instant results.
  • Never compromise on quality.
  • Ensure partnerships add value to brand equity.

The Simpson File

Name: Bob Simpson
Title: President and COO
Company: Jelly Belly

Born: Sacramento, California

Education: Studied education at Sacramento State University

What was your first job and what lesson did you learn from it? It was a summer job I had when I was 15. I worked for $1 an hour at the Sacramento Pet Cemetery. Among other things, I dug graves for pets. I was determined to save money to buy a car for my senior year in high school. I had to give up a lot to do that, but I learned the value of a dollar and what it took to earn a dollar.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life? My parents, primarily my mother. She the reason for the values I have, the emphasis she placed on family. So she serves as a constant reminder of what family means and what’s important in this life.

What’s the best business advice you’ve received? Trust your own instincts and intuition is the best advice I can give anyone. At Raley’s supermarket, my mentor was Frank McMinn, who was in charge of marketing, advertising and brand development. He taught me the value of being a good listener, and setting a good example.

 What are your favorite and least favorite Jelly Belly flavors? For my favorite, I go back and forth between Pink Grapefruit and Toasted Marshmallow. A true-to-life flavor I’ve always loved is Coconut, because it’s made with real coconut. I hate to admit it, but I’m not a big fan of Buttered Popcorn. You either love it or don’t love it. The people who are passionate about Buttered Popcorn can’t get enough of it.