Fancy Sprinkles Founder Lisa Stelly Brought Cool Millennial Branding to the Baking World
Like her company’s signature products, Fancy Sprinkles founder and CCO Lisa Stelly’s veneer is a unique blend: fun and colorful, edgy and cool. A little naughty even. But behind the pink-haired, sequin gown-wearing persona you see on social media, Lisa is about substance as much as aesthetics — and that goes for her sprinkles, too.
Stelly, an entrepreneur and mom of three girls, has gone through some shit and come out the other side more confident than ever. In fact, it was during a low point in her life that she began her sweet journey to success.
“After my second daughter was born in 2015, I had really bad postpartum anxiety and depression,” said Stelly. “I was looking for things to just make me feel better, something that I could do that had nothing to do with being a mom. I really just wanted a hobby that was mine and mine alone.”
After falling down the rabbit hole of cake decorating videos on Instagram (look, we’ve all been there), Stelly discovered a hobby that channeled her artistic interests, minus the scrutiny of more subjective art mediums. “I can look at a painting and go, ‘wow, that’s just magnificent,’ and someone else can look at it and go, ‘I don’t get it,’” said Stelly. “No one looks at a cake and says, ‘I don’t get it.’ With a beautifully decorated cake, you look at it and go, ‘OMG that’s amazing, I wanna eat it.’”
Stelly has her daughter’s “very specific” birthday cake request to thank for her first foray into cake decorating. Stelly binged some YouTube tutorials, bought the necessary tools, and to her surprise, she pulled it off.
She was hooked, and it wasn’t just about finding an enjoyable hobby. For Stelly, this was a turning point in her road to the self-assurance she’d need down the line to launch Fancy Sprinkles. “I was instantly addicted to it. I got such good, positive feedback that I really needed at that time.”
Lisa’s “Aha” Moment: Sprinkles Should Taste Good
“Why sprinkles? There was this huge white space in the market and all the sprinkles in the market were gross and boring. Our stuff is delicious and beautifully packaged. It tastes good.”
— Lisa Stelly
Millennials understand the value in aesthetics. We are, after all, the Instagram generation. So if we gravitate toward beautifully packaged beauty brands, alcoholic beverages, and eyeglasses, why wouldn’t that expand to baking ingredients?
You don’t have to be a professional baker to understand what Stelly’s talking about when she said the sprinkles she’d see at grocery stores and craft stores didn’t feel “aesthetically relevant.” Beyond the less-than-appealing branding, have you ever tasted traditional sprinkles before? At best, they’re flavorless. At worst, they’re disgusting.
“Sprinkles typically are pretty mushy, they look stubby, they’re kinda waxy, and they don’t really have any flavor,” Stelly said. “I’ve never gone to an ice cream shop and gotten sprinkles on my ice cream. Not once in my life.”
It wasn’t until Stelly was traveling in Europe that she discovered the holy grail — beautiful sprinkles that tasted really good. “They were crunchy and sweet,” said Lisa Stelly. “I was like, these are delicious, why don’t they taste like this in America?”
A fruitless hunt for a white star-shaped sprinkle for a 4th of July Cake and hours of internet research later, Stelly learned two important things: there was a huge white space in the quality cake decorating products market and the key to delicious sprinkles was powdered sugar as the first ingredient, not wax and cornstarch. Armed with this knowledge, Stelly started ordering small quantities of sprinkles from Europe and Canada that “looked the prettiest and tasted the best.” She’d mix them together into her own color palettes and schemes.
“I put them on some doughnuts for a friend, and my friend, who is also an entrepreneur, was like, ‘You should sell these.’ I was like, ‘The doughnuts?’ And he was like, ‘No, sell these sprinkles.’”
With this vote of confidence and support from another entrepreneur friend, Stelly learned how to make a website and photograph her products, and she hit the ground running. “I was just like, OK, so am I doing this? It was very weird,” said Stelly. “It all happened so fast, and once I started I became completely addicted.”
In fact, Stelly underestimated just how fast Fancy Sprinkles would progress. “Whenever you have a product in a very niche space that has been underserved and there’s not a lot of competition, you can blow up really fast. And that’s exactly what happened,” said Stelly.
In just two months, Fancy Sprinkles made the amount of money Stelly had projected for the entire first year. The day she moved the company into its first space of its own she realized it was already too small, and they had signed a two-year lease.
“I thought, this’ll just be something fun that can be a hobby for me, and maybe I’ll make a little money and I can take my family on vacation and do something nice for them,” said Stelly. “I wasn’t expecting what happened over the next four years.”
Sprinkles in Beef Stew and Edible Eyeshadow: the Allure of Fancy Sprinkles
“Glitter on food just feels naughty."
— Lisa Stelly
Besides online shopping for Justin Bieber’s wardrobe and binging The Crown, curating and naming sprinkle blends is one of Stelly’s favorite activities. From “peachy kween” to “animal crackers,” “purple pony party” to “unicorn barf,” every sprinkle blend Stelly thoughtfully curates gets its own photo shoot with art direction based on the name’s theme that may or may not be obvious to the customer.
“I’m inspired by the weirdest things at the most random moments,” said Stelly. “One time I was watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse with my daughter, and Mickey walked into this gemstone castle. I was like, I love that color palette. So I made a sprinkle blend based off of it.”
While Stelly could predict that bakers would be obsessed with her sprinkle blends, she wasn’t prepared for just how much people would freak out over the brand’s other uber-popular product: Prism Powder. These colorful, edible glitters might have been your gateway drug into Fancy Sprinkles. After all, the targeted ads on Facebook and Instagram are sure to stop you in your tracks. Swirling, pearlescent pink Champagne. Glistening cherries. Pots of iridescent glitter that look more like loose eyeshadow pigment than something you could actually eat.
“I’ve seen edible glitter before, and you’re like, that doesn’t look like glitter; it’s a little lackluster,” Stelly said. “So when we developed Prism Powder, my main thing was that it has to look like real glitter. It took a while, but we got it down, and it really does look like actual glitter!”
Stelly added, “We quickly learned that people LOVE putting it in their drinks. It became this whole beast that we weren’t expecting just based on who was buying it. Some people don’t bake, but they wanna make things fancy.”
Speaking of unpredictable outcomes, one Fancy Sprinkles usage Stelly didn’t see coming: sprinkles on beef stew. When I asked her about the weirdest ways customers use Fancy Sprinkles, she shared this parenting hack:
“I had a customer say, ‘I just want to thank you because I put sprinkles on my daughter’s beef stew last night and that was the first time she ever ate beef stew. She’s four, thank you so much.’ We have parents just put like four sprinkles on a whole meal and the kid will eat it because it has sprinkles on it. Everybody wins.”