Each year Jelly Belly’s plant in southeastern Thailand makes a rainbow of jelly beans to satisfy fans the world over.
But many of those beans customers can’t even eat.
That’s the fun — or the catch — behind BeanBoozled, a game that prompts players to spin a wheel and select a bean based on color, each having two corresponding flavors. One is delightful, and the other is disgusting. Will players get lime or lawn clippings? Popcorn or rotten egg? Juicy pear or booger?
Building on the expertise gained by developing revolting jelly beans under the Harry Potter Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans license, Jelly Belly launched the first edition of BeanBoozled in 2008.
However, the game went viral in 2015 with the YouTube BeanBoozled Challenge, spurring vloggers and Jelly Belly fans to record their reactions while playing the game. Virtually overnight, the world wanted a chance to try the Russian roulette of jelly beans.
Production at Jelly Belly Candy Co. (Thailand) Ltd. went into overdrive.
“We couldn’t keep up. It completely exploded,” Managing Director Herm Rowland Jr. said. “As many cases we could make sold.”
A YouTube search of “BeanBoozled Challenge” yields nearly 2.2 million videos. And at the peak of the craze, Jelly Belly Thailand hired 150 temps in addition to its 150 employees, all working day and night to produce the terrifically terrible jelly beans.
Now, as BeanBoozled sales level off, the company’s Thailand division is looking to diversify.
“Everything goes up and down, in waves. The BeanBoozled thing was a huge uptick, so now it’s turned the corner and it’s coming down,” Rowland said. “It’d be nice to have steady growth all the time instead of these ups and downs,” he added. “We’re trying to figure out what else we can get in the basket.”
For the longtime sugar confectionery company, that means a larger push into chocolate — particularly through licensed products.
“It’s not going to catch (BeanBoozled), but it’s doing very well for us,” Rowland said.
When Rowland’s father, Herm Rowland Sr., returned from a two-week trip to Thailand in 2006 and announced Jelly Belly would build a factory there, his family, including Rowland Jr., was surprised.
However, Rowland Sr. and Mike Bianco, senior v.p. of manufacturing at the time, had spent the past year looking for a suitable location to expand overseas and bolster Jelly Belly’s international business.
“This factory was built to take care of the international market,” Rowland Jr. said. “Our international market was not growing for many years, so we decided to look outside.”
Thailand, offering access to low-cost labor, GMO-free tapioca syrup, global sugar prices and world-class sea ports, seemed like the perfect solution. Jelly Belly’s efforts were also backed by the Thailand Board of Investment (BOI), a government agency promoting foreign investment.
In May, the BOI brought a group of trade journalists, including Candy Industry, to Jelly Belly Thailand and other food production facilities to highlight the country’s manufacturing capabilities.
Specifically, the BOI has provided Jelly Belly with benefit packages and connected the company to WHA Corporation, a developer offering built-to-suit factories, logistics facilities, utilities infrastructure and digital data solutions in nine industrial estates — or sprawling industrial parks — across the country.
Jelly Belly Thailand is located within WHA’s 3,890-acre Rayong Eastern Seaboard Industrial Estate (ESIE) in Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor, an area of focus for Thailand’s economic development agencies.
Don Helton, general manager of Jelly Belly Thailand, said the BOI and WHA have been instrumental in helping Jelly Belly navigate the process of establishing and growing its international business.
“Our partnership with all of our Thai friends is very key to our operations running efficiently,” he said. “They’ve been great to work with, and they aid us with elements in operating business here that, quite frankly, we are short in knowledge or background on.”
Jelly Belly products, made with colors from natural sources and non-GMO tapioca syrup, are currently available in 55 different countries, with the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada and Australia representing the four largest export markets.
The company continues to make headway in Japan, the United Arab Emirates and China.
“It’s a difficult market,” Rowland Jr. said of China, “but we’re getting there.”
Among the complicated aspects of international trade are taxes and duties, but they’re not an issue for Jelly Belly. The company owns the land on which its Thai plant is built, and that land falls within the ESIE’s 122-acre Free Trade Zone, sparing Jelly Belly duties on imported raw materials and exported finished products.
“It’s like we’re on our own little island,” Rowland Jr. said. “It’s helped us a lot to be able to move things in and out.”
The zone is tightly monitored, however. Each quarter, Jelly Belly must destroy expired items in front of customs representatives who keep precise records of ingredients and finished products.
The system — and the location — have worked for Jelly Belly, Rowland Jr. said.
“So far, it’s been really good for us,” he said. “We’ve expanded at least three times, and we’re working on the fourth expansion right now.”
Moving into chocolate
While Jelly Belly Candy Co. has chocolate in its past — especially when it operated under the Goelitz name in its early days — the “mini jelly bean” has been the company’s bread and butter for at least half a century.
And Jelly Belly’s Thai plant, in its infancy compared to Jelly Belly’s nearly 150-year history, had even less experience with chocolate. But that’s all changing.
In keeping with the Harry Potter license, Jelly Belly was purchasing chocolate frogs from another manufacturer, but in time, increased demand for the frogs made them more difficult to get. Jelly Belly decided to purchase its own Knobel depositor and make chocolate frogs at the Thai facility.
There’s been a bit of learning curve, Rowland Jr. said, noting the company is working with Barry Callebaut’s Southeast Asian divisions to train the Thai staff.
“It’s very touchy to temper chocolate right, and if you push some buttons wrong, you’re going to have a mess,” Rowland Jr. said. “We’ve had a couple little boo boos here and there, but nothing really serious. I want everyone to learn it.”
The sooner the better. Jelly Belly plans to have 10 chocolate items on the market by the end of the year, among them Harry Potter wands and house crests, as well as a chocolate dinosaur egg aligned with “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” released in June.
Rowland noted the company will move its chocolate operations to another building on the Jelly Belly Thai campus next year to better meet GMP regulations, bringing the company’s operational area to 244,000 sq. ft.
He added the Thai facility hired its own R&D professional last year, allowing Jelly Belly Thailand to expand its options in the chocolate, sugar and gummy realms.
“We have the capability of doing other things here,” Rowland Jr. said.
While flexibility and diversified skills are key to Jelly Belly Thailand’s continued success, the location plays just as important a role.
“It’s a great country,” Rowland Jr. said. “It’s the land of smiles.”
Kitchen to the world
Thailand’s economic development agencies are on a mission.
Their goal, according to the Thailand Board of Investment, is to develop Thailand 4.0, an innovation-driven economy focused on growing five existing industries — agriculture and food; tourism; automotive; electrical and electronics; and petrochemicals — and moving into five new industries — automation and robotics; aerospace; digital; bioenergy and biochemicals; and medical and healthcare.
When it comes to the food and agriculture, Thailand aims to become a Top 5 global food exporter. It’s now ranked No. 14, according to Thailand’s National Food Institute (NFI).
Last year, the Southeast Asian country exported 33 million tons of food products at a value of nearly $30 billion. NFI President Yongvut Saovapruk estimated food exports would reach $33 billion in 2018.
Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations represent Thailand’s largest export market, accounting for 27 percent of total exports, followed by Japan (13.3 percent) and the United States (10.9 percent).
Rice is Thailand’s No. 1 export, generating $5.16 billion in 2017. Sugar, the country’s third greatest export, brought in $2.7 billion last year. Tapioca starch brought in just over $1 billion last year.
But Thailand wants to move beyond commodity markets and offer to the world safe, high-quality food products with added value — “food for the future” — such as ready-to-eat items and health-focused products.
While increasing exports is significant, Thai agencies recognize the global popularity of Thai cuisine. To uphold those standards, the Department of International Trade Promotion has developed the Thai Select program, which certifies and promotes authentic Thai cuisine around the world.
A seal of approval is granted to Thai restaurants overseas that serve authentic Thai food and processed Thai food products. The objective of the certification is to increase awareness of quality Thai restaurants and food, as well as to encourage Thai restaurateurs and food producers to raise their quality while maintaining authenticity. More than 300 Thai restaurants in the United States are Thai Select certified.