Get Creative With In-Store Sampling

New efforts range from free add-ons with online orders to “drive-thru” free samples.

May 13, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—For CPG manufacturers, one of their most effective marketing tactics has been temporarily cut off, reports Adweek. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, in-store food sampling is on lockdown, but some brands are already finding new and creative ways to continue getting their products in front of consumers.

“Overnight, in most instances, we shut down our business operations,” Andrea Young, president of customer experience at Advantage Solutions, a provider of in-store sampling services for retailers such as Albertsons, Kroger, Target and Walmart, said of the prohibition on sampling.

Most grocers eliminated in-store sampling in early March, prior to President Trump declaring the coronavirus a national emergency on March 13, according to Young. For many manufacturers, this development eliminated a proven marketing technique for converting shoppers into customers, as food sampling lowers the risk and uncertainty involved in buying an unfamiliar product.

Grocers benefit from in-store sampling, since providing free food to nibble on can be a source of entertainment for consumers, elevating their retail experience. Survey data from market research firm Mintel shows that 61% of U.S. adults would like to see more samples of new products while shopping for groceries.

Since ceasing its in-store sampling services in early March, Advantage Solutions has leaned into innovative ways of creating similar moments for shoppers. “The primary pivot is that we’ve gone from high-contact, high-touch, hand-to-hand sampling to contactless or low-contact experiences that are largely tech-enabled,” Young told the Journal.

This includes digital demonstrations and virtual advisers accessible through text messaging. With more people using the web to purchase groceries, the company is also increasing its practice of adding samples to online orders. In the past 60 days, the number of brands interested in using this strategy has doubled, Young said.

Snack brand Pipcorn helped establish itself by handing out free samples at farmers markets and Whole Foods. Pipcorn was preparing to launch a new line of crackers via in-store sampling at Whole Foods when the pandemic arrived. But when that door closed, the company shifted its focus to digital options, turning to a program allowing customers who bought an item on the company website to send a free product to a friend.

Sampling isn’t just for new brands, either. When Coca-Cola released its first energy drink in January, the company hoped to market the new beverage through an experiential sampling program.

“For Coca-Cola Energy, tasting is believing, and we want as many people to taste the product as possible,” said Brandan Strickland, brand manager, Coca-Cola. Because of the pandemic and need for social distancing, Coca-Cola adjusted its strategy, opting to insert its energy drinks into online grocery pick-up orders, as well as donating them to front-line workers.

“Sampling will happen again in stores, there’s no doubt about it,” Young said. “But just like every other industry is going to reopen and look different, we’re not going to be any different than that.”

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.