From Unicorn to Shimmer: Confection Trends Shine & Sparkle

It All Started with Toast …

When the food stylist of Instagram’s @vibrantandpure, Adeline Waugh, posted her infamous unicorn toast in June of 2016, little did she know her fanciful ingenuity would inspire CPG categories from cereal to ketchup. Just five months after, German confectioner Ritter launched Einhorn “Unicorn” Chocolates.


Then, the infamous flavor-changing Unicorn Frappuccino from Starbucks sent the U.S. into a fanciful frenzy in 2017. Bautz’ner’s Pink Glitter ketchup followed, along with Kellogg’s Unicorn Froot Loops. Fast forward to 2018, there’s now Pinky Organic Unicorn soup available from German brand, Jérôme.

Trend expert, Daniel Levine, believes it takes three key elements to create a food fad:

  1. The fad must align with the culture’s current zeitgeist
  2. The fad is visually interesting enough for social media sharing
  3. The fad is promoted by public figures

The “Unicorn” embraced all three factors, and with such a stronghold in social media, it’s not surprising visually-centric micro-trends like shimmer and glitter are peaking CPG’s interest. From the glitter in Bautz’ner’s Ketchup to Ice Breakers’ new Summer Snow Cone glitter gum, food products are sparkling across all retail areas, especially confections.

The Science of Shimmer: Pearlescent Pigments

One way for confectioners to add a metallic or shimmer effect to confections is through pearlescent pigments. Mica-based pearlescent pigments are approved by the FDA in amounts up to 1.25% by weight in the following applications:


Mica is a durable and very stable mineral consisting of a sheet-like structure, making it resistant to heat and unreactive to water, most acids, alkalis, solvents, and oils.

To create a pearlescent pigment particle, titanium dioxide is layered onto mica then calcified under intense heat, creating a layered pigment. The visual experience of a pearlescent pigment is called an “optical interference.” As light hits the pearlescent pigment particle, color develops through the interference between light rays reflecting through the titanium dioxide layer and off of the pigment particles. In all cases, for a pearlescent pigment to manifest its shimmer, unimpeded light must hit the particle.

Color and pearlescent particle size can both impact the overall effect of a consumer’s optical interference.


Since white and pastel colors absorb light, the impact of pearlescent pigments is less prominent on those base shades. In contrast, darker backgrounds or bases do reflect the light of the pearlescent pigment, so the shimmer effect is more noticeable.



Larger pearlescent particles provide more surface area for reflection, resulting in more of a metallic or bigger sparkle effect like craft glitter. Whereas smaller pearlescent particles produce a silky sheen effect.


The industry standard for pearlescent particle sizes is typically 10-60 microns per particle, but Sensient has a wealth of particle sizes ranging from 5-500 microns per particle. Pearlescent pigments present exciting opportunities for confectioners to create new candies that visually stand out amongst the crowd.

Take a look at some of our ideas…

#1 Strands of Opulence

The fashion industry propelled some of this year’s #extra and #OTT (over-the-top) trends forward, such as lavish embellishments, all gold accessories, and attention-grabbing, bold colors. We’ve taken these drama-boosting styles into licorice ropes.


  • Licorice Base Color: Black Iron Oxide
  • Pearlescent Pigments: Gold, Purple Silver, and Bronze Small Particle Options
  • Ideal process for the following applications: panned candies, licorice, and gum

#2 Fizzy Ropes

Consumers seek more out of products. As energy drinks and sports nutrition continue to rise, more functional products emerge across the different segments. Stimulate the senses with Fizzy Ropes, an energy gummy roll whose sparkle cues its effervescent beverage flavor effect.


  • Gummie Rope Base Color: Spirulina and Turmeric
  • Pearlescent Pigment: Silver Large Particle Options
  • Ideal process for the following applications: hard candies, gelatins, and gummies

#3 Bubbles Bars

From ‘goth’ charcoal ice creams to misfortune cookies, foods are rebelling by containing edgy, unexpected ingredients that blur categories. Introducing Bubbles Bars, a childhood treat with an adult twist in two new flavors…
Sparkling Rosé and 24K Gold Champagne


  • Compound Coating Base Color: Chocolate Brown
  • Pearlescent Pigment: Pink and Gold Large Particle Option
  • Ideal process for the following applications: morsels, compound coatings, chocolate decoration

#4 Arctic Narwhal

Bring the unicorn of the sea to life through a rich sensory experience full of arctic flavor, cooling sensates, and glistening blue ocean color in one piece of gum.


  • Gum Base Color: Spirulina Extract
  • Pearlescent Pigment: Silver Small Particle Option
  • Ideal process for the following applications: panned candies, licorice, and gum

The shimmer and shine food trend is only in its beginning phase. We predict more to come, especially as pearlescent pigment technology continues to advance. Sensient’s R&D team have created de-dusted powder pearlescent pigments to mitigate dust fly up during manufacturing, as well as patented pearlescent dispersions that reduce a three-step application process into one simple step. But, they haven’t stopped there, the team is currently researching the possibility of pearlescent pigments without titanium dioxide.

Looking to add a pearlescent effect to your product? Our confection color experts are ready to help make your products shine. They can assist you with shimmer across a variety of applications and production processes.

Keep an eye out for my next blog on shimmer particulates, another unique color inclusion to fancify your food.

Related Posts