Trucker Wayne Lamberty would prefer to go by his longtime CB handle: “Two Birds.”
But everyone, from waitresses at truckstops to children to the minister at his church in Calloway, Neb., calls the Marten Transport driver by a different name: the Jelly Belly Man.
Lamberty insists that handle shouldn’t be confused with Mr. Jelly Belly, the well-known bean-shaped, red mascot who reclines on a sweet pile of jelly beans on Lamberty’s company Peterbilt. Mr. Jelly Belly is mythological. Lamberty is merely larger than life to the people along his route whom he supplies with one of America’s favorite confections, Jelly Belly jelly beans.
“They can see me coming,” Lamberty says with a big bearded smile. “The people at the fuel island – if I don’t get some of my samples out – they’ll hold my fuel receipt.”
They can see him coming for a reason: his truck and trailer are covered with Jelly Bellys and other sweet candies from one of the country’s oldest confectionary companies. Several years ago, the Jelly Belly company, which uses Marten and other trucking companies to haul jelly beans, chocolates, candy corn and other confections from its factories in Fairfield, Calif., and Pleasant Prairie, Wis., wrapped the trailers and trucks used in its dedicated runs in giant Jelly Belly art. The bejeweled trailers and trucks are awash in color and catch the eye of adults, kids and truckers. Lamberty says truckers often ask the same question:
“How many Jelly Bellys are on the truck?” The answer? “I don’t know. I’ve never been that bored to count.” It might be easier to count the jelly beans in the truck. In fact, there are 17.2 million of them – 43,000 pounds – in every load Lamberty carries.
Considering the company moves as many as 14 billion jelly beans a year, Lamberty and his fellow drivers are busy men. But that’s only a fraction of the 7 billion pounds of chocolate, candy and gum consumed in the United States.
Candy is big business and it’s seasonal business. Just ask Oscar Garcia, a trucker driving for Royal Freight out of Pharr, Texas. Garcia says he hauls just about anything, but when the Christmas shipping season begins in August, he loads his truck to the roof with some of the 1.8 billion candy canes made each year for Christmas.
Garcia’s company pulls loads for Bob’s Candies, an Albany, Ga.,-based company and the world’s largest manufacturer of candy canes. In September, the trucker was moving canes and Sweet Stripes, soft peppermint balls, from the company’s Mexico factory to its factory in Albany.
Oscar Garcia hauls auto parts and other dry goods most of the year, but come August he helps transport millions of candy canes.
“It’s picking up like crazy right now,” Garcia says outside the Georgia facility. “They’re shipping out Christmas right now.” At Bob’s Candies, August and September are the busy season, even though the company is making candy canes and other sweets year round. It’s during those months that retailers begin stocking their shelves with the traditional Christmas candy.
The tradition of candy canes goes back to the 17th century, when a German choirmaster in Cologne handed out sugar sticks to keep his young singers quiet. For a nativity service he bent the candy into shepherd’s crooks. By the 19th century the confection had taken hold and became a Christmas favorite. The red and white stripes and peppermint flavor became the norm by the turn of the 20th century.
Bob McCormack, the Bob in Bob’s Candies, began making candy canes in the 1920s for his children, friends and local shopkeepers in Albany. A relative invented a machine to automate production, and the McCormack family developed packaging to protect the fragile sticks during transport. The innovations made Bob’s Candies the world’s largest producer of candy canes. The company produces millions of the canes, with drivers like Garcia pulling the loads.
With all that candy rolling down the road behind him, someone might think Garcia would be tempted. But he doesn’t really like candy canes. “I ain’t crazy about candy canes but I’ve got a sweet tooth,” he says. “I get up in the middle of the night craving something.” Usually that something is chocolate, particularly Butterfinger, Babe Ruth and Nestle Crunch candy bars.
“I should be hauling for Hershey,” he jokes. “But I’d probably cut a hole in the trailer!”
Garcia is joking, but candy theft and tampering is a big concern for manufacturers, which is why each load, whether at Bob’s or Jelly Belly, is sealed. That doesn’t stop Lamberty from having fun with the product he hauls, though. On each trip to Fairfield, Jelly Belly Distribution Manager David Moody makes sure one box of bellies makes it into the big Nebraska trucker’s cab. From there, the jolly Lamberty doles Jelly Belly jelly beans to people he meets on his route.
“If kids at a truckstop or restaurant want them, I’ll give them to them – if their parents will let me,” he says. Other truckers – especially Marten drivers – ask, too. “They’ll get on the CB and ask me for samples. I tell them where I plan to stop and give them to them when they get there. A lot of times they think it’s a joke to ask for samples. When I tell them I have them, they’re floored.”
Drivers also will ask Lamberty if he’s embarrassed to drive the colorful truck, which looks
like a giant rolling candy jar. Lamberty, who loves the artwork, tells them he likes his job. Then the rebuffed truckers usually ask for samples. “The guys insult my truck and then want samples?”
But Lamberty, who is a top ambassador for Jelly Belly, is happy to oblige. “The Jelly Belly people are happy,” he says. “It’s great advertisement.” Lamberty gets more than smiles for his work, too. Kids ask for his autograph and give him hugs, which makes his workdays “just like Christmas.”
The load is pretty easy for Lamberty to deal with. The premium beans are hauled in refrigerated trailers and are kept between 60 and 65 degrees. If they get too hot they stick together; too cold and they freeze, cracking their thin candy shell. Once Lamberty had a reefer gel up on him and the load almost froze before Mother Nature and a mechanic reversed course.
The only hazard of the job is gaining weight when he eats the product. His favorite flavor is licorice. In addition to the hugs, Lamberty gets to be a hero to his 9-year-old daughter Monti, who rides with him during the summer. She gets a big bag of the beans (her favorite is toasted marshmallow) and shares them with classmates.
Lamberty, whose father was an owner-operator, says getting the Jelly Belly load was a big deal for him. Randy Marten, his boss and company president and CEO, asked Lamberty personally if he wanted the load. The 22-year road veteran – 18 of which were driving for Marten – couldn’t resist the opportunity to have a dedicated route that gets him home weekly. “I thought running on a route would be dull, ” he says. “I used to haul refrigerated freight to all 48 states. I never knew when I’d be home. Now I leave here on Saturday and I know when I’ll be home.”
“There’s nothing better in the world than being loaded and headed home. Everybody I come in contact with on the route I’ve gotten to know. They ask about me and my family. That’s important.”
Some of the regulars on his route got a little leery of Lamberty last year when he brought a new concoction of beans around, the popular Bernie Bots Every Flavor Beans. The beans come from the popular Harry Potter book and movie series and feature beans with flavors like dirt, vomit and earwax. Some of the truckstop workers along the route didn’t appreciate new flavors. Now he’s back to dispensing the regular premium beans.
Lamberty and fellow trucker Garcia are one link in America’s fascination with sweets. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Americans consumed 7 billion pounds of chocolate and non-chocolate candies and gum in 2001. That staggering amount was actually a decrease from 2000, when Americans consumed nearly 2 percent more. The country also spent more than $24 billion retail on candy last year.
Most of that money – about $13 billion – was spent on chocolate, which costs more than non-chocolate candies. But non-chocolate candies accounted for 100 million more pounds of consumed sweets. Gum accounted for $2.8 billion in sales.
Americans buy the most sweets for Halloween. In 2002, an estimated $2 billion was spent on Halloween alone. Easter finished second with $1.8 billion, and candy makers expect to sell more than $1.5 billion in candy and chocolate this Christmas, according to figures provided by the U.S. government and the National Confectioners Association.
Many candies made for the Christmas holiday season are destined for stockings. That tradition comes from the fourth century origins of Saint Nicholas, who tossed gold coins down a chimney in the home of three sisters whose father could not afford to marry them off. The coins landed in their stockings.
Fruit and candy have long since replaced coins as the filling of choice. A survey conducted last year by the NCA found that 85 percent of parents who received stockings filled with candy as children have continued the fun by filling their own kids’ Christmas mornings with sweets. But the tradition has come a long way from a few gold coins. This year the NCA estimates that during Christmas and Hanukkah, consumers will spend more than $300 million on boxed chocolates, and that manufacturers will make 1.8 billion candy canes and 150 million chocolate Santas.
The annual candy production keeps truckers like Lamberty busy, but he enjoys the work. “One family flashed a sign from their car as I was going down the road,” he says. “It said, ‘Got samples?’ Well, I had to pull over.”
The family took photos and explored his truck while he gave candy to the kids. When Lamberty got back on the road, the car pulled up next to him and flashed another sign that read, “Thank you!”
“This is a real rewarding job. People are happy to see you because they know you have candy.”
- More than 35 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate will be sold for Valentine’s Day.
- More than 60 million chocolate bunnies, 2 million marshmallow chicks per day, and 15 billion jelly beans will be produced for Easter.
- Americans will purchase an estimated 20 million pounds of candy corn for Halloween, and 93 percent of children will go trick-or-treating.
Jelly Belly Facts
- Jelly Belly beans were the first jelly beans in outer space when President Reagan sent them on the 1983 flight of the space shuttle Challenger.
- The original eight flavors of Jelly Belly beans introduced in 1976 were Very Cherry, Root Beer, Cream Soda, Tangerine, Green Apple, Lemon, Licorice and Grape.
- Buttered Popcorn is the most popular flavor.
- Jelly Belly beans were invented in 1976. They were the first jelly beans to be sold in single flavors and to come with a menu of flavors available.
- It takes seven to 10 days to make a Jelly Belly jelly bean.
How a Candy Cane Is Made
Step 1: Sugar and corn syrup, blended and brought to Bob’s by railcar, are cooked in continuous cookers at the rate of 6,000 pounds per hour.
Step 2: The syrup is poured onto a water-cooled table to cool.
Step 3: The cooled, slightly stiff batch is loaded on the pulling machine, which pulls air into the candy until it is silky-white. A vial of 100-percent pure, triple-distilled peppermint oil is poured into the batch.
Step 4: Red coloring is kneaded into a small batch of unpulled candy. It will become the distinctive pinstripes in candy canes.
Step 5: Stripes are added to the 6-inch strip of pulled white candy.
Step 6: The candy is formed into a bolster shape and two sets of pinstripes and two wide solid stripes are placed on it.
Step 7: The new candy is stretched and spun.
Step 8: The candy is fed into a batch roller, which helps the candy maintain its round shape as it is pulled between sizing rollers.
Step 9: The candy rope is conveyed into the wrap-pack room, where it is twisted, cut, crooked and wrapped.
Step 10: Once cooled, the candy canes are packed into protective cradle packs. These packs are overwrapped in film and cased and stored until the Christmas selling season.
For more information about candy canes, go to www.BobsCandies.com.