Merriam-Webster defines the jelly bean as "a sugar-glazed bean-shaped candy." Retailers see it as a profitable little goody that ain't just for April anymore.
It seems the Easter Bunny -- in the form of imaginative candy manufacturers -- has taken his seasonal jelly bean trade and made it a year-round business.
The current activity stems from a couple of major suppliers creating new jelly bean products, and the increasing presence of tiny and more flavorful gourmet beans in supermarkets.
"Most of the time you had to purchase upscale jelly beans in specialty shops," explained Mimi Peck, grocery buyer at Copps Corp., Stevens Point, Wis., who has just instituted a bulk gourmet jelly bean program using Herman Goelitz's Jelly Belly products.
"I think we're broadening the customer's base by bringing the jelly beans into grocery stores; yet we're not hurting our margins, because Jelly Belly, as a company, will not let us sell below a certain price."
That price, said retailers, is near $5 a pound -- five whole dollars for jelly beans. That's a far cry from the buck-fifty traditional jelly beans command.
While the gourmet bean manufacturer doesn't want supermarkets to tinker with the integrity of the candy's price, Peck said retailers don't want to, either. However, they are able to place their price points below those of a specialty shop.
"I want to give the consumer a good price, which is lower than a specialty shop, but still let the store make some money," she said.
"Gourmet jelly beans will run about $4.50 a pound," said Ben Ebbensen, bulk food and health food merchandiser at Thrifty Food Stores, Burlington, Wash. "I also carry the everyday jelly bean, which is an assorted color mix. These standard jelly beans run for around $1.59 or $1.79 a pound. It's sort of a lower-priced item, and a lot of people buy them because of the price point."
"Jelly beans are very popular. People just love them," Ebbensen said. Along with the taste, the colorful character of the beans adds to their appeal, he said.
While consumers are scooping the beans by the bagful in bulk departments, the grocery aisle hasn't been shortchanged when it comes to the sugar-glazed, bean-shaped candy.
"I do see some changes in the jelly bean category," said Tim Harris, category manager at Kennedy's Piggly Wiggly Stores, Coeburn, Va. "The Brach line has come out with a smaller jelly bean and changed their packaging."
"Brach's new jelly beans are called Cristals," said Keehn Eagles, buyer-merchandiser at Holiday Cos., Minneapolis. "So more and more [suppliers] are getting into them, because jelly beans traditionally have always been pretty good sellers."
Another major, and recent, introduction has been that of M&M Mars' Starburst jelly beans.
"They come in a 7-ounce peg bag and a lay-down bag," explained Carrie Holm, candy buyer at Houston-based Rice Food Markets. "We just started carrying those, so I can't say how the movement is."
Copps' Peck said the Starburst product will help generate further interest in the jelly bean category.
"They have the name," agreed Gene Hebert, a buyer-merchandiser at A&P's New Orleans division, who has taken on the Starburst jelly beans. "For [M&M Mars] to get into it, they certainly want a niche in the market. "But," he added, "our mainline peg candy supplier is Farley. And, of course, they have a few jelly bean items that come in pegged and lay-down bags as well."
"We carry Farley's year-round," said Bill Kitrick, grocery buyer at Winn-Dixie's Miami division, Pompano Beach, Fla. "They have a new product of tiny ones called Itsy Bitsy jelly beans. And we also carry their regular ones in a lay-down bag."
Kitrick is not surprised at the durability of the jelly bean. "They've been around forever," he said, "and I guess they'll continue to be." But the one thing that's sure to change is the flavors, he added.
Indeed, Herman Goelitz's Jelly Belly beans are leading the way in supermarkets with 40 official flavors, including buttered popcorn, pina colada, strawberry cheesecake, toasted marshmallow and champagne punch.
"I carry the whole assortment of them: banana, strawberry," said Thrifty's Ebbensen. "A lot of people have their favorites, but many like to mix their own."
When Goelitz comes out with new flavors, Ebbensen said he has to move out the slow movers just to keep up with the variety. "One of the newest flavors is the jalapeno, and people have been asking for it."
"I offer about 34 Jelly Belly flavors," said Copps' Peck. "But we have different configurations of displays in each store, so I don't have all the Jelly Bellys in each store."
Nevertheless, Peck makes room for seasonal beans, regardless of how many bins each store may have. For instance, this Christmas she'll have about five holiday varieties, including egg nog, apple cider and cranberry.
"What you're going to see in stores that have a variety of jelly beans is the consumer picking them up and realizing that jelly beans aren't just for Easter," she said.
But Christmas isn't the only holiday to horn in on Easter's most famous side dish. Halloween is just around the retail corner, and supermarkets are prepared.
"The prime time to promote jelly beans is all during the holidays," said Thrifty's Ebbensen. "Easter is your biggest time for jelly beans. But right now we're doing Halloween. So I have a big display of black and orange jelly beans."
Currently, Ebbensen is featuring the Halloween beans for $1.39 per pound, and as the holiday approaches, he'll drop that down to a bewitching 99 cents.
"So I've got them featured at a lower price right now just to show people and to get them to start buying jelly beans. Then I'll come out with a really hot price."
Jack Lanners, director of fresh fruits and vegetables at Glen's Markets, Gaylord, Mich., said his stores don't get carried away with bulk jelly beans. However, for Halloween, he was sure to merchandise black and orange beans.
"We carry bulk jelly beans in fresh fruits and vegetables. And grocery carries the bags," said Lanners. "Grocery will carry the bagged gourmet jelly beans year-round."
Where the product is merchandised is not the only difference in operating the business of jelly beans. Often, how they get to retail shelves varies.
The gourmet bulk jelly beans in Rice Food Markets stores are direct-store-delivered through an independent distributor, according to Holm. "So they fill the orders for us and take care of the whole program."
A&P's Hebert said, "we carry specialty candy-type items through a direct-store-delivery supplier. We don't warehouse that."
No matter how they get to the shelves, most retailers said they really don't have a problem with them staying there.
"Here in the Midwest we always seem to do pretty well with jelly beans on a year-round basis," Holiday Cos.' Eagles noted. "Sales have been picking up in the last few years."