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Where Knowledge Junkies Get Their Fix
Linda Rodriguez
A Brief History of Gummy Bears
by Linda Rodriguez

jellio-gummi-lightsEver since I can remember, I have been a confirmed gummy bear addict. I love gummy bears, particularly Haribo’s Gold Bears and Happy Cola (it does make me happy), but I’ll even deal in Trolli in a pinch. Of course, that the little, fruit-flavored gelatin bears are addictive shouldn’t be surprising—after all, in 1997, tobacco exec James Morgan, head of Philip Morris Co., claimed that tobacco is no more addictive than gummy bears.

But what do we really know about these tasty denizens of a gummy candy world? Here’s a quick and dirty on gummy bears:

In the Beginning…

In 1920, a poor confectionery factory worker in Bonn, Germany, decided that it was high time he struck out on his own. Armed with nothing but a bag of sugar, a marble slab, a kettle, an oven and a rolling pin, Hans Riegel began whipping up hard candies in his kitchen, which his wife would then deliver from the basket of her bike. The new company was called Haribo—a smash up of Hans Riegel of Bonn.

hariboAfter two years of middling profits, the Riegels realized that they’d need a gimmick and fast to keep competitive. Noticing the popularity of the soft gelatin-based candies of their competitors and thinking, well, children like bears, the Riegels decided to make their next product a soft, fruit-flavored chew in the shape of a dancing bear (Tanzbär). The original bear was a bit taller and more svelte than the gummy bear (or, in German, gummibär) we all know and love, but it was an instant hit with children in Bonn.

By 1930, the two-man family operation had evolved into factory of 160. By the beginning of World War II, Haribo had more than 400 employees churning out 10 tons of candy each day. World War II was a disaster for the company—Hans Riegel, Sr. died, his two sons were prisoners of war, and Haribo was down to 30 employees—but the company limped on. When the two sons returned, they brought the company back from the edge and revived it such that by 1950, they employed more than 1,000 workers. From there, the world: Haribo consumed its confectionery competitors and built more factories in markets across Europe, changed its bear shape to the now classic, smushy Gold Bear shape, and entered the US in 1982.

The Secret Recipe

The exact recipe and method of production of the Haribo bears remains a closely guarded secret. And although there are many pretenders to the throne who’ve tried to usurp the gummy crown (Trolli, German inventors of the gummy worm, are a notable example), Haribo remains one of the largest manufacturers of gummy in the world, if not the biggest, producing more than 80 million bears a day for distribution the globe over.

The Bears Go Big Time

The bears had been popular in Germany and Europe for generations, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that American markets caught on the gummy craze. Soon, everything from dinosaurs to Dungeons & Dragons figures was being cast in gummy, although the bears remained the heart of the industry.

gummi-cartoonIn 1985, even Disney stepped in to capitalize on the popularity of the little bears, with a cartoon featuring a family of bouncy anthropomorphized bears called The Adventures of the Gummi Bears.

The Gummi Bears, bouncing here, there, and everywhere, were a family of six bears, the sole survivors of the once great Gummi race decimated and forced into exile by humans jealous of their magical gummi powers. Living beneath a medieval human kingdom, the bears are discovered by a kind human boy who promises to keep their secret, but are constantly troubled by an evil Duke who knows of their existence and wants to steal their Gummiberry Juice, which was the secret to their bounce and was like PCP for humans. The show premiered on NBC in 1985, paving the way for the animation boom that was the Disney Afternoon, and lasted until 1991.

The Bears Go Even Bigger Time

This September, the world’s largest gummy bear went on sale online at VAT19.com. Weighing in at 5 pounds and standing 9-and-a-half inches tall, one single bear is the equivalent of 1,400 regular-sized bears. A diabetic nightmare, the bear offers five times your daily caloric intake in one go, with 12,600 calories. It comes in three flavors, blue raspberry, red cherry, and green apple, and is handcrafted in the USA. Should you be unable to consume the entire gummy animal in one sitting, it can last up to a year in plastic wrap in the fridge. For $30, that’s almost worth it.

The Bears Go Boob Time

Ever squished a gummy bear between your fingers and though, “Hmm… feels like boobies?” No? Well, me either, but evidently someone has—“gummy bear” breast implants have actually been on the market since 2005, FDA-approved since 2006. They’re not actual gummy bears, but they are made of a silicone gel material that mimics the firm but soft texture of the gummy bears.

Bear as Meme

In 2007, a green, squishy bear that danced in its orange underwear and sneakers to over-synthed techno muzak took YouTube by storm. Despite its twee bizarreness, the bear’s first song, “I Am Your Gummy Bear,” actually cracked the singles charts of Australia, Germany, Sweden, and a few others before its cuteness finally wore itself out. Of course, that didn’t stop the makers of the Gummy Bear from making more songs featuring the jiggly creature, hawking ringtones, and splashing his ditzy mug on t-shirts (available in adult and infant sizes).

Gummi Light image courtesy of Jellio.com.

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