This may or may not be real.
The man who claims to be the founder of Jelly Belly jelly beans has begun a Willy Wonka-style contest hiding "gold tickets" somewhere in all 50 states that could result in finders winning $5,000 and ultimately one of his Florida candy factories. But playing will cost you $50. And the details look sketchy.
Several news stories this week reported on the scavenger hunt created by David Klein, who told us he created Jelly Belly jelly beans in 1976 and sold the company as it started to peak in 1980. He said he plans to hide gold-colored military-like dog tags in places across the country – although he didn't specify where or how.
"Each treasure hunt is valued at $5,000 and cost is only $49.99 to enter a hunt," said his self-authored news release on PRNewswire. "Each treasure hunt has a strict limit of 1000 participants, no exceptions."
1000 participants per state at $50 a pop times 50 states equals $2.5 million by our math.
But in a phone conversation, Klein said he's only made it to nine states so far, and the going is being slowed by Covid-19 restrictions. "It's hard to tell when I'll get them all out, it's been a slow rollout," he told us.
Then he abruptly hung up the phone. And his website describing the contest, TheGoldTicket.com, either isn't working or crashed Sept. 8 due to high activity.
Jelly Belly Candy Co. posted an announcement on its website distancing itself from the promotion and Klein. The current company noted it was "formerly known as Herman Goelitz Candy Company [and] has candy making roots back to 1869 … In 1976, Mr. Klein, an independent third party, came up with the name 'Jelly Belly' and other novel marketing ideas. Jelly Belly Candy Company has not had a relationship with Mr. Klein since 1980 when it acquired the trademark."
For our February cover story "Cannabis: Will There Ever Be a Pot of Gold?" we talked to Klein, who was making CBD-laced jelly beans from, apparently, one of his companies under the name Spectrum Confections. A USA Today story identified Klein's company behind this promotion as Candyman Kitchen. The PRNewswire release was credited to Tricky Treasures.
To play, hunters must pay $49.98 to receive a riddle that will help them hunt down the gold necklace in their state. Different state riddles will be released on different days, beginning with Georgia's on Sept. 30, according to a CNet story. Those who pay will be allowed into a private Facebook group about their hunt, and only 1,000 people can participate in each hunt.
The dialog on the promotion's Facebook Group page indicates California is already sold out.
"The biggest and best part of these treasure hunts is that anyone who joins at least one treasure hunt, will be eligible to search for THE ULTIMATE TREASURE which will be the key to one of his candy factories and an all-expenses paid trip and education to a candy-making university," said the PRNewswire item. "He will add this treasure hunt after all the states have had a chance to play."
Klein told us the college was University of Wisconsin-Madison. The 4,000-sq.-ft. factory in Hawthorn, Fla., makes "various candy items." He said the promotion is part of his slow move into retirement. "I've been making candy for 55 years now," he said.
"With all that's going on, this country really needs something fun right now," he said. And, hopefully, something real.