I've driven past the billboard on Interstate 65 for Albanese Candy Factory dozens of times over the years, but I'm always too eager to get to my destination to veer into Merrillville to check it out.
You, too? OK, I'm glad I'm not the only one.
Then, last month, I had a little extra time on my drive from Bloomington up to to Chicago, and at the urging of my passenger (ahem, my husband, who is a bit of a gummy bear connoisseur), we finally took that detour to the land of sugar highs.
I knew Albanese made gummy bears, but other than that, I wasn't sure what to expect. Less than three miles east of Interstate 65 is Albanese's production facility and a retail shop with hundreds of candy bins. This family-owned business opened in 1983, and it's now such a draw that it offers tours of its production facility.
Here are four fun facts about this candy mecca:
Albanese makes more than 500 kinds of candy. Gummis. Milk-chocolate covered anything and everything (walnuts, peanut butter Ritz crackers, blueberries). Dark-chocolate covered anything and everything (coffee beans, pretzels, cashews). Then there are fancy chocolate-dipped creams and cordials and toffees. All that adds up to a whopping 60 million pounds of candy each year.
If you've been recently or plan to go soon, you'll see a huge expansion is underway at the factory. Marketing manager Bethany Albanese says the company is doubling its space to allow for even more candy making and storage. Albanese is considered a large producer in Indiana, but medium-sized for the candy industry, she says.
Its best-selling candy is a 12-Flavor Gummi Bears mix. Albanese makes 51 kinds of gummis alone: signature bears in flavors like wild cherry, peach and green apple — but also a slew of other kinds, like gummis in the shapes of those little green army guy toys; gummi worms and rings; and seasonal gummi shapes like pumpkins, snowmen and Easter bunnies.
The retail shop at the factory has a giant chocolate fountain straight out of Willy Wonka. Yes, that's real liquid chocolate flowing from the ceiling.
The retail shop sells all kinds of nostalgic and hard-to-find candy from other manufacturers, plus its own "gummi goof-ups" at discounted prices. Bubble Tape, Push Pops or Fun Dip, anyone?
If you walk out of here empty-han — ah, nevermind. That's just impossible. Albanese is a fun detour and destination. If you've been eyeing the billboard, too, it's time to finally check out this sweet spot.