Consumers know not to go to the grocery store hungry. But even satiated shoppers can’t resist sampling stations. After all, everyone likes to try new products. And who doesn’t like free food?
The good news for grocers and food brands is that sampling also has great metrics. According to British grocer Tesco, an in- store sampling demo can get a product into the hands of 250 shoppers per day per store. A 2009 U.S. study by Knowledge Networks-PDI revealed that sampled items had an average 475% sales lift on the day of sampling. The study, Report on In-store Sampling Effectiveness, also found sampling programs deliver long-term gains: the average cumulative trial for the sampled products was 58% over 20 weeks.
A good sampling program will “educate and excite shoppers about something different and new that they may not have considered or anticipated as part of their shopping trip,” says Shelly Anwyll, vice-president at Launch, a Toronto-based brand communication agency.
But what are the secrets to sales-boosting sampling programs? Canadian Grocer turned to experts to find out.
2. Offer something new…and keep that grill going!
Approximately 75% of food sampling events involve some type of product innovation, such as a new product launch, reformulation or package redesign, says Empowered Brand Marketing president, Karen Duval. “In-store sampling is an effective way to generate trial and educate consumers on what’s new,” says Duval.
Products that tend to do best in samples are visually attractive and have sensory elements.
“When you’re cooking something in the store, the aroma will draw customers over to that location,” says Anwyll. Make sure the food is ready to nibble on. “If it’s a cooked item, having to wait for a sample is not going to achieve [trial].”
3. Make a meal of it
Grocers can help with the “What’s for dinner?” conundrum by sampling complete dishes. Masstown Market in Masstown, N.S., cooks up its own fish dishes, stir-fries and a Nova Scotia vegetable stew called “hodge podge” to prompt meal ideas for customers.
The store also sometimes uses ingredients that are new to its customers to pique interest. It may, for example, use bok choy or Napa cabbage–which many Nova Scotians aren’t familiar with–for its stir-fry samples. “It’s nice to prepare things differently than what people are used to,” says Laurie Jennings, Masstown Market’s owner. “You educate shoppers and give them something they can easily do at home.”
4. Get the right people
You might have the right product, but a sampling program won’t work without the right people behind the counter. “They have
to have energy and passion and the ability to really engage the consumer,” says Nadia Giannantonio, manager of shopper marketing at Mondelēz Canada.
Samplers must also know the product they’re pitching inside and out. Staff should “provide product knowledge, features and benefits, along with tips on how to best prepare the products,” says Julie Surminsky, director of engagement marketing at Crossmark, a sales and marketing services company.
Having engaging and informative brand reps is key for sampling both consumable and non-food products. “Even if it’s a pet product that people can’t consume, [pet owners] will be interested in the ideas and solutions being conveyed,” says Anwyll.
For its supplier-side sampling programs, Masstown Market focuses on local producers, so there’s never any issue with poor brand representation. “The folks that make [the products] are the very best samplers because they’re passionate about their product,” says Jennings.
5. Partner Up
Sometimes the best way to showcase a product is to team up with another brand. “Triscuit crackers on their own are great, but we can also pair them with a cheese partner,” says Giannantonio. “They go from being a great out-of- the-box snack to a quick appetizer for guests.”
That strategy has worked for Sabra Dipping Co., which makes flavoured hummus, dips and guacamole. “To give shoppers a sample on a generic cracker or a baby carrot is OK, but we partner with Stacy’s Pita Chips and that combination works very well,” says Chandler Gotschlich, senior brand manager at Sabra. “Finding a partner to work with offers a more complete package.
6. Measure more than day-of sales
Count on a certain degree of sales lift during a sampling event and, as the Knowledge Networks-PDI study shows, for the weeks following. Marketing firm Launch typically tracks sales on the day of the event, then four weeks, three months and six months post event. “[The goal] is to build long-term value and loyalty for that brand as a result of [the sampling event],” says Anwyll.
Mondelēz’s Giannantonio notes that if there’s a coupon at a sampling event, data can be pulled to see the redemption value. And if there’s a contest associated with a sampling program, notes Anwyll, the number of people who visited the website and entered the contest can be measured. In any case, improving the way you give away “free food” can get you bigger gains.
7. Timing is everything
It makes sense that doling out dip on a Monday morning is probably not a smart idea. For Sabra, the best times to sample are on or before long weekends. “Dips are a social food and people are shopping for barbecues and gatherings,” says Gotschlich. “It’s a great time to remind them that having a fresh dip is something to share with family and friends.”
In terms of duration, Surminsky says Crossmark looks to sample regularly over a two- to four-week period. “Thursday through Sunday tend to be peak days for shopper foot traffic and will provide the greatest opportunity to engage numerous customers,” says Surminsky.
Anwyll notes that if a grocer or food brand is targeting moms, it may be best to sample mid- week and midday. Or if there’s a seniors’ event happening, brands targeting older customers should be there. “You want to be in-store when there’s other activity that’s engaging the same shopper profile.”