Have you ever been hit with the chocolate smell wafting from Bloomer Chocolate Company on Kinzie Street? Or have you followed the Daily Chicago Chocolate Smell Map? Maybe even submitted your own Smell Reports? We get it: Sweets are a treat. And since Bloomer doesn’t offer tours, hit the road to northwest Indiana’s Albanese Confectionery, the only spot in the U.S. that offers gummi manufacturing tours.
The Tempting Tour
Since 1983, the family-owned and -operated Albanese Confectionery — located about 45 minutes south of Chicago in Merrillville, Indiana — has been long known for award-winning gummies and candies made with ingredients sourced locally. Both a shop and a factory, the worth-the-trip destination teases kids as only Willy Wonka could. With an Oompa Loompa-like insider’s view, your family will learn how the factory works and how the candy is made and sold.
Drop in for a 10-minute self-guided tour, during which you’ll peek into eight glass windows to see the goings-on of production and the machines at work. Imagine 7,500 brightly colored bears popping out of molds every hour and gliding past on conveyor belts. Now imagine your kid’s smile of delight!
photo: Michelle S. on Yelp
Hungry yet? You’ll be even more so once you lay eyes on the floor-to-ceiling fountain from which chocolate flows. It’s a fantastical sight and reminder of the pounds and pounds of sweet stuff that’s used to make treats like milk chocolate-covered caramels with sea salt. The best part: Tours are free and include candy samples. If you choose to go on a Guided Tour (available for groups of 12 or more) you’ll hear first-hand how the equipment and technology is used — a great experience for the budding engineers in your family.
photo: Laura C. on Yelp
The Shop & Crave-tastic Candies
You can buy Albanese Confectionery candy and chocolate in numerous Chicago-area shops (including Lolli & Pops in Chicago French Market), but it’s worth browsing the factory outlet store, attached to the manufacturing center. Bins of colorful gummis, chocolate-dipped nuts and pretzels vie for your attention, and so does the separate section devoted entirely to jelly beans. In the weeks leading up to Easter, the Easter Bunny hops by for photo opportunities.
Without a doubt, the biggest lures here are the gluten-free gummi bears, stamped with their signature ‘A.’ Sugar-free sweets are also available, with choices including Fruit Bears, Meltaways, Gummi Peach Rings, Haystacks and more. Psst … be sure to snap up the Green Gummi Army Guys!
photo: Kelsey S. on Yelp
While You’re There …
Turn your drive into a full-blown weekend adventure and coordinate your timing with Merrillville’s Star Plaza Theatre shows, which range from music and dance performances to kids’ events. Upcoming shows include Chuggington: The Great Rescue Adventure Live (Feb. 21) and Sesame Street Live: Let’s Dance (Apr. 23-26).
If your little tourists need to burn off their sugar high, take them to nearby Dyer’s Fun Flatables, an indoor inflatable playground full of climb-on structures, mazes, obstacle courses, slides and age-appropriate bounce houses.
photo: Brian M. on Yelp
Albanese Confectionery’s self-guided tours usually take about 10 minutes and are available at any time during operating hours — no reservations are necessary. A 30-minute guided tour is available for a maximum of 25 people and must be scheduled two weeks in advance. Group tours are available Tuesday-Thursday, 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. There are no tours in March & April when the Easter Bunny makes his hoppin’ appearance.
The shop is open Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
5441 E. Lincoln Highway
What food factory tours do YOU love? Shout about them in the Comments!
— Wendy Altschuler