Jelly Bellyaching

Aug. 31, 2022
Relationships between food entrepreneurs and the co-manufacturers they use often get...fractious. But for sheer weirdness, it would be hard to top the long-running dispute between Jelly Belly and David Klein.

Relationships between food entrepreneurs and the co-manufacturers they use often get...fractious. But for sheer weirdness, it would be hard to top the long-running dispute between Jelly Belly and David Klein.

It all started in 1976, when Klein developed Jelly Belly gourmet jellybeans – or, at least, came up with the name. He hired what was then the Herman Goelitz Candy Co. to produce them. They proved to be such a hit that Goelitz bought the name from Klein in 1980 for $4.8 million and changed its name to Jelly Belly Candy Co.

So does that make Klein the founder of Jelly Belly?

He thinks so. He’s been going around calling himself that ever since, much to the chagrin of Jelly Belly. It’s led to a federal lawsuit, filed last week by Jelly Belly, trying to get Klein to shut up.

In the filing, Jelly Belly claims that Klein has “harassed” them over the years. The latest example: When Googling “who invented Jelly Belly?” started resulting in pictures of Herman Goelitz instead of Stein, the latter, according to the court filing, started a GoFundMe to sue Jelly Belly over the matter (but never did).

Klein, for his part, portrays himself as a victim of humorless businessmen. According to a LinkedIn post quoted in the Sacramento Bee, he commented the day the suit was filed: “[T]his morning Jelly Belly Candy Company filled [sic] a lawsuit against me. ... I wonder if Colonel Sanders had this problem.” (Actually, he did.)

There’s a factor involved that makes this whole matter not quite as laughably petty as it may first appear. Klein has been marketing jelly beans infused with CBD since 2019, and in marketing materials, he consistently refers to himself as Jelly Belly’s founder. Jelly Belly, understandably, does not want its name associated with the cannabis business. The murky legal status of cannabis in this country has led to cheesy knockoffs of mainstream food products from Frito-Lay, Mars and others.

I have a hard time deciding who’s in the right here, and in any case, that’s what courts are for. But the larger point, for me at least, is the convoluted laws, regulations, and general attitudes this country has when it comes to cannabis as a food or beverage ingredient.

Let’s let the cannabis industry operate as a totally legitimate one, able to do business across state lines, access credit and do all the other things a real business can do. Maybe once the stigma is removed, disputes like this one will... mellow out.

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