Step into any supply, specialty or craft store, and you are bound to find one thing they have in common: new sprinkle blends. Gone are the days of simple rainbow nonpareils. In their place, you’ll find glittering combinations of unique shapes, sizes and colors. But where did this great sprinkle sector come from? Turns out, it started with bakers themselves, crafty entrepreneurs who put their skills and talents into developing new brands and products. And they aren’t just making sprinkles. They’re building sprinkle empires, one little jimmy at a time.
At this point, it might be difficult to picture the simplistic sprinkle selection of a decade ago: single colors, single types, and maybe a holiday mixture here and there. Demand from bakers themselves was the driving force behind the newer mixes and seasonal assortments. Take “self-professed sprinkle junkie” Rosie Alyea, a baker, blogger and cookbook author, who is now owner and CSO (Chief Sprinkle Officer) of Sweetapolita. While writing her first book, she ordered every sprinkle she could find and created her own mixes. “I was truly inspired and realized that this magical mix of sprinkles belonged all over a cake as the focal point. I ran with it and created a coordinating rainbow cake inside and adorned the entire cake with the colorful bits, stirring up a vision that I could create countless mixes (now referred to as Sprinkle Medleys) that would encourage creativity, approachable cake decorating and childlike joy among anyone who enjoys being in the kitchen.” In just a three months in 2015, she launched her first 12 medleys and hasn’t looked back.
Business-minded bakers like Alyea identified a hole in the decorating market, particularly with home enthusiasts who are inspired by the bright, colorful cakes and cookies on social media. Others are responding to demands for more natural ingredients, both from customers and governments. For Rich Myers of Get Baked, a popular British bakery, it was what he dubbed as “Sprinklegate” that forced him to create his own line. In 2021, regulators informed him the use of sprinkles he imported from the United States were illegal due to a particular colorant. It was either choose an inferior but approved sprinkle brand on his bestselling cakes and cookies or develop his own. “I am extremely passionate about sprinkles,” he explains. And so, Expen$ive sprinkles were born a few months later. Not only does he use them in his shop, but what he calls “the world’s greatest sprinkles” are available online for purchase, with their own cult following thanks to social media covering the controversy.
Now that sprinkles are everywhere, is it even possible to break into a saturated market? The answer is yes, and the reason is what businesses focus on regardless of their product: differentiation and innovation. For owners Surrae Shield and Rachel Madden of River Road Sprinkle Co., it is hand-dyed naturally colored sprinkles. “We focus on difficult to create shades, creative color combinations, and on sprinkles that look like as much time went into them as the bakes that they’re topping,” explains Shield. “Bakers and treat makers put so much time, energy, and creativity into creating their works of art, and we take the same approach when dyeing and mixing our blends.” From a career in the grocery baking industry, Shield developed a deep understanding of customer service and responding to demand. “That’s the best part about dyeing the sprinkles ourselves. We can hop on microtrends, throw together a cool idea to see if it works, and do limited releases.”
Similarly, Sweetapolita is constantly innovating and releasing new products. “The possibilities are endless! Our community looks to us for inspiration, and it is our mission to never disappoint. We create approximately 20 new products for every season, with a flurry of new items around Halloween and the holidays,” notes Alyea. And of course, it doesn’t stop at sprinkles. “We are excited to be branching out into adjacent items, such as food coloring, glitter and more.” Once a line of consumer packaged goods is created and a brand is built, expanding to other products is a natural next step.
Another key to staying competitive in a trending business sector is staying true to your customer base. “We are so grateful for our loyal community that has been with me since the blogging days, and we work very hard to set ourselves apart. Our core competencies are quality, selection, customer service and brand experience—the Sweetapolita Sprinkle Squad is committed to providing a magical experience from start to finish,” Alyea explains. Shield has a similar approach. “We stay in our lane, keep the joy alive in what we do, support other makers where we can, and I believe that our community recognizes that.”
Finding a small niche inside an already niche market, building a customer base, constantly innovating: These are concepts shared among these entrepreneurs. Within a few months, all these sprinkle specialists were able to bring unique products to market and build new businesses. So are you ready to join the great sprinkle explosion? You have to jump in fast while the market is hot, but if you have the passion, you can make it work. Take it from Alyea: “It’s amazing how fast you can work when you are taken over by unbridled inspiration!”
(This article appeared in the Fall 2023 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)