Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY -- Every year, before the Thanksgiving turkey hits the platter, America's food giants decide that consumers want to celebrate the holidays with something they can't get the rest of the year: weird flavors.
Not only is holiday 2012 no exception, but things appear to be getting even weirder. Like candy cane-flavored Pringles. Like Gingerbread shakes at Red Robin -- with a shot of Jim Beam for grown-ups. And, yes, chocolate truffle ChapStick.
This isn't just about Christmas spirit. It's about competition for consumer purchases during the food world's most lucrative time of the year.
If a dash of peppermint or a sprinkle of cider translates into extra holiday business, it's a no-brainer.
For consumers, "it feels urgent, as in 'Available Now, But Not Always,' " says brand guru Kate Newlin. "It cements an emotional connection."
Or so these categories ho-ho hope:
-- Chips. Holiday-flavored chips? Pringles now comes in Cinnamon & Sugar, White Chocolate Peppermint and Pumpkin Pie Spice. Reason: The brand has great success with new flavors the rest of the year, says Angela Gusse, associate marketing director.
-- Shakes. A Gingerbread Shake is part of Red Robin's holiday line. "Powerfully positive emotions are aroused by sense memories," explains Denny Marie Post, chief marketing officer. The first Gingerbread Shake of the season, she says, signals "party on!"
-- Sundaes. Burger King has rolled out a Gingerbread Cookie Sundae. "Nothing evokes the holiday spirit like the taste of gingerbread," says Eric Hirschhorn, vice president of global innovation.
-- Cake. Baskin-Robbins has a $32.99 ice cream cake centerpiece that looks like a turkey ready for carving -- with the legs made of sugar cones. Just want the ice cream turkey "leg?" Those are new this year, at $7.89 for a two-pack.
-- Soda. When Jones Soda rolled-out a Turkey and Gravy holiday cola in 1994, it got more PR than sales. This year, it's got Gingerbread, Pear Tree, Candy Cane and Sugar Plum. "Even with flavors that people think will be disgusting, they still want to try it," says marketing manager Andrew Baumann.
-- Coffee. The best-selling holiday java at Starbucks: Peppermint Mocha. So it's no accident that this season, the blend is being extended across its Via instant coffee platform, says spokeswoman Lisa Passé.
-- Meat. It may sound hokey, but McDonald's McRib, to roll-out for a limited time next month, is evolving into its own savory breed of a McHoliday flavor.
-- Lip balm. Even ChapStick is in the mix. Its flavors for holiday 2012: Candy Cane; Apple Cider; and Chocolate Truffle. Last year, says MacKay Jimeson, a Pfizer spokesman, ChapStick tried something really odd: White Hot Cocoa. "It was not a favorite."