Rediscover the lost art of sampling

Articles
November 17, 2009

Rediscover the lost art of sampling

Food sampling can bring delicious surprises to shoppers and expand their basket size with impulse purchases – especially in this recessionary time when people respond with outsized emotion to unexpected delights on mundane trips.

Food sampling can bring delicious surprises to shoppers and expand their basket size with impulse purchases – especially in this recessionary time when people respond with outsized emotion to unexpected delights on mundane trips.

A taste of nova from the seafood counter can lead to a $30 per pound sale. A cube of cheese could sell a wedge that lands on a party tray at home. A sliver of fresh-baked cake could drive shoppers to the showcase nearby.  A small cup of a breakfast cereal could become part of a dieter’s regimen. There’s little in the in-store marketing world that compares with the impulse potential of food samples – because the enjoyment can be duplicated at home when the family also tastes the new items. 

Yet food safety concerns, the randomness of in-store locations, and the lack of consistent branding of sampling stations have kept sampling from performing to its full potential for years.

It’s time to reawaken shoppers’ taste buds in the store, if we pay attention to statistics revealed by Walmart at the recent Grocery Manufacturers Association Merchandising, Sales and Marketing Conference. Sales lifts of 260% for Easter cookies, 1,000% for ham, 6,000% for cakes and 245% for pineapples from sampling events tied to circular promotions, occurred over the year before, said Terry Nannie, the chain’s senior director of marketing, reported Supermarket News.

The big difference came when Walmart launched an ongoing program at the time of the latest Super Bowl managed by Shopper Events, LLC – a joint effort between Advantage Sales and Marketing and Crossmark Inc. By April, the newly structured sampling program expanded to 2,000 supercenters using branded sampling stations (with refrigerators and microwave ovens) that displayed collateral materials along with the foods to taste; this expanded to 27 Neighborhood Market supermarkets, four Marketside stores and two Supermercado de Walmart stores by end of summer 2009, according to an In-Store Marketing Institute (ISM) report.

The program is branded as Bright Ideas, and it has several winning elements that supermarkets could learn from:
•    Sampling staff are assigned to specific stores to facilitate relationships with customers and store staff
•    The three branded carts per supercenter are recognized within the store environment
•    Themed campaigns give shoppers easy access to lifestyle solutions
•    Sampling is integrated with other marketing and merchandising opportunities for brands
•    Events occur on predictable days and times – Thursday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

The program delivers an average of 26.7 million customer interactions and 2.8 million samples per week, the ISM report stated. Since an independent Simmons survey showed that Walmart’s shoppers are 15% likelier than the average U.S. consumer to be influenced by sampling events, the strategy makes sense for the giant retailer.

If sampling stations could make these big boxes more appealing and productive, it’s time to reconsider the lost art of sampling for more embracing supermarket formats.