Move over ranch ice cream, here comes french fry frozen yogurt

Odd mashups of flavors have been a surefire way for food companies to turn heads for quite a while, but the latest offering from frozen yogurt chain 16 Handles might cause whiplash.

The froyo chain has introduced a limited-time offering that is designed to replicate the taste of . . . french fries . . . at its more than 30 locations nationwide. The flavor will be available through mid-July, the company says.

This bright yellow frozen yogurt includes salt and real pieces of french fries mixed in with the dairy product to give it a sweet and salty taste. The curious combination was born from some people’s love of dipping french fries into their ice cream at certain fast-food giants—and a touch of snark about how often the ice cream machines break down at certain fast-food giants (looking at you, McDonald’s). It’s something that even captured the attention of the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice earlier this year since currently, only the machine’s manufacturer can fix them.

“We’re all about making people smile at 16 Handles,” said Neil Hershman, CEO of 16 Handles, in a statement. “Since we are experts when it comes to ice cream machines, we had some extra laughs with the marketing on this launch. . . . French fries and frozen yogurt go surprisingly well, and the flavor really has that ‘wow’ factor.”

16 Handles, which opened its first store in New York City in 2008, has a history of slightly out-there yogurt flavors, with recent launches including Butter Beer, Dune Spice, and Keto Chocolate Brownie.

It’s hardly alone. Shock flavors have been popping up with increasing regularity in restaurants, grocery stores, even legacy food brands lately. Candy brand Peeps raised eyebrows last year with Pepsi-flavored versions of its brightly-colored chicks. Oskar Blues, a few years ago, partnered with French’s Mustard to release a yellow mustard beer, which sold out in 22 minutes. (It tasted exactly as you would think: gross.)

Hidden Valley Ranch has been particularly effective with its mashups, working with Burt’s Bees in January to release a four pack of lip balms that tasted like buffalo sauce, celery, carrots, and ranch dressing. The lip balms sold out in less than a day.

Last year, Hidden Valley also partnered with artisanal ice cream maker Van Leeuwen to make a ranch-flavored ice cream that was sold at Walmart. (Van Leeuwen, incidentally, may well be the king of weird flavors. Among its past ice cream-flavor offerings are lemon poppy seed muffin, Kraft Mac & Cheese, and pizza.)

Other odd flavor combos of late include Oreo Sour Patch Kids cookies and Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity snack chips from IHOP and Lay’s, which brought to mind the taste of strawberry-topped pancakes with a hint of bacon.

Are these flavor mixtures stunts? Of course they are. But they’re also a way for companies to stay relevant with consumers—and muscle their way into extra shelf space in stores, especially when those weird combinations go viral on TikTok, as they so often do.

They boost sales, too. Russell Zwanka, director of the food marketing program at Western Michigan University, told the Associated Press earlier this year that when consumers buy these products, they also often buy a non-weird-flavor combination—just in case the thing that got them in the door is as off-putting as it sounds, they’ve got a comfort-food parachute standing by. 

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