How the Unicorn Went Mainstream

By Watson Team
Published on May 22nd, 2018

All that glitters may, in fact, be gold! Sparkly, rainbow-colored “unicorn food” is pointing the way toward a fun food revival and reinforces the notion that social media, especially Instagram and Pinterest, should play a major role in any food company’s market research. Just ask Starbucks, Kellogg’s, or General Mills—all companies that are experiencing the magic of the unicorn.

A Food Trend is Born

Traditionally, a food trend got its start when a creative chef either served up an innovative restaurant dish that got rave reviews or promoted a new food on TV, usually a cooking show or talk show. But now, with the advent of food blogs and smartphones, anyone can become a celebrity chef. Clever ideas can come from anywhere and, through social media, spread faster than ever. Instagram has played a critical role in this, with more than 208 million posts of food photos since its founding in 2010.1 

Case Study: Unicorn Toast

Food stylist and blogger Adeline Waugh was inspired to make food that brought a little happy and fun to the table. On a whim, she mixed different natural colors (beets for pink and blueberries for purple) into cream cheese and artfully painted brightly colored diagonal stripes onto a piece of toast. When she uploaded the photos to her food and healthy living blog, Vibrant and Pure, as well as to Instagram and Twitter, she had no way of knowing that the packaged foods industry was also watching.

Her followers thought it looked like a unicorn, and the name stuck. As her photos spread through social media, other food bloggers expanded on the idea, adding edible glitter, marshmallows, and additional colors. Fast forward to the release of Starbucks' Unicorn Frappuccino and Kellogg’s Limited Edition Unicorn Cereal. General Mills even added a unicorn marshmallow to their Lucky Charms cereal—with plenty of fanfare

"“For the first time in a decade, Lucky Charms will have a new permanent marshmallow! The magical unicorn is joining hearts, stars and horseshoes, clovers & blue moons, rainbows and tasty red balloons.”2"

A perfect fit for a product already known as “magically delicious.”

So What Exactly Is a Unicorn?

It may have started as just colored toast, but vivid imaginations have transformed unicorn food into something out of a fairy tale. You know you've spotted a unicorn if it looks like this:

  • Multi-colored – either bright rainbow colors or dreamy pastels (especially pinks and purples)

  • Frosting

  • Whipped cream

  • Marshmallows – in white or pastel colors

  • Glitter and sprinkles

It can even include a mane and horn made out of fondant!

Make Your Own Magic with Edible Glitter

Foods and beverages that can easily be given the unicorn treatment include:

  • Baked goods – donuts, cupcakes, cakes, cookies, and bagels

  • Breakfast cereals

  • Snack foods – snack bars, crackers, and chips

  • Confections

  • Frozen desserts

  • Gelatin desserts

  • Shakes and smoothies

  • Coffee drinks

  • Frostings, spreads, and dips

While unicorn food is super fun for kids, the Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino has shown us that it’s not just for kids. And where frosting and marshmallows just won’t work, edible glitter can still get the message across. 

Edible Glitter for Some Sparkle

Edible glitter can make your product feel festive year round. Available in an assortment of colors, sizes, and shapes (even stars and hearts!), these tiny flakes are easy to add, either mixed in or as a decorative topping. Edible glitter has a significant cost advantage over sprinkles and can even be incorporated into chewing gum, lozenges, and tablets.