(USA TODAY) - The surest sign of summer isn't the smoke spewing from the grill - it's the crazy-looking ice cream dripping from the cone. (Take a look at the gallery above, courtesy of WFMY, of 10 wild flavors.)
With the economy showing sporadic signs of life, this summer's ice cream selections may rank among the wackiest in years - from "sushi" ice cream cupcakes to ice cream "pizza" to an ice cream "Brrrger."
"The goal isn't to sell a billion of these new concoctions," says Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. "The goal is to get people in the door, thinking it's cool."
Most consumers sample the new flavors for free, but end up buying good ol' vanilla, chocolate or strawberry. "Crazy flavors get the buzz started," says Ray Karam, senior tastemaster at Cold Stone Creamery.
On scoop this summer:
•Sushi cupcakes. Not real sushi, but darned if this new Marble Slab item doesn't look like the real thing. These ice cream cupcakes are even topped with Swedish Fish candy. "It's a conversation starter," says Jenn Johnston, marketing chief at Marble Slab.
•Watermelon chip. Baskin-Robbins is bringing back Watermelon Chip, watermelon ice sprinkled with chocolate "seeds." Future summer flavors, executive chef Stan Frankenthaler says, may include Fried Ice Cream and Sesame Tahini.
•Ice Cream Pizza. OK, it's not a real pizza, nor does it really look like one. But the Friendly's item is a chocolate brownie covered with vanilla ice cream topped with sprinkles, chocolate chips and fudge drizzle. "Consumers have an insatiable desire for new flavors," says Tim Hopkins, executive vice president of retail.
•Candy Shop Blizzard. This Dairy Queen item, due in July, smells like a candy shop, with mini-chocolates filled with hazelnut creme, fudge and caramel blended with dark cocoa fudge and DQ vanilla soft serve. "By offering the unusual, we have customers continuing to come back," says Barry Westrum, marketing chief.
•"Pop Tart." MilkMade Ice Cream, a tiny ice cream maker in New York City that mostly uses local ingredients, has concocted a Pop-Tart-like ice cream sandwich with apricot ice cream stuffed between two freshly baked tarts.
•Ice Cream "Brrrger." No, it isn't a real burger. It's chocolate ice cream, between two sugar cookies, made to look like a burger, right down to the oozing ketchup and mustard coloring. Carl's Jr., which is testing it in Orange County, Calif., calls it the Ice Cream Brrrger. What the chain needs to create next, jokes marketing chief Brad Haley: "A burger shake to wash it down."
Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY