Sampling for Success


A recent feature in WholeFoods Magazine (not associated with Whole Foods Market) provides a refresher course in how category managers can work with staff and key suppliers to create in-store events that benefit everyone involved.

The keys to success on the retailer side? Work with staff who enjoy customer interaction and who are knowledgeable and helpful. Experts advise limiting the number of products to be demoed and sampled. Jay Jacobowitz, founder and president of Retail Insights, Brattleboro, Vt., and merchandising editor for WholeFoods Magazine, notes, “There was that famous study done [with] two demos, one with six jams, and one with 24 jams. Which one sold more? The one with six jams.”

On the vendor side, Jacobowitz cautions against being too ambitious with a demo schedule and advises choosing products wisely. Be sure to have something new, fresh and seasonal to sample, and be realistic about preparation needs. Keep staff resources in mind, and test pilot programs when planning a bigger launch.

For a recent in-store demo and sampling effort, for example, the Mushroom Council worked with Fusion Marketing and Doc’s Food Stores Inc. in Bixby, Okla., to create fresh meat-and-mushroom-blended items. “The Blend” products were sampled in the meat, produce and prepared food sections. Demonstration and display areas were enhanced with in-store signage, recipe cards and special offers. The pilot program also included print circular advertising and how-to information.

Working with the right retailer to create the right recipes was important: Doc’s is a small regional chain where customers know the staff and trust their recommendations. To build staff awareness, the Mushroom Council offered samples and sales incentives at staff meetings a month before the in-store launch.

“What was unique about the Doc’s events is that the samplings took place in three store sections. This really underscored how meat and mushrooms work together to create something new,” says Steven Muro, founder and president of Fusion Marketing.

“More than just selling the particular product, offering a demo sends the message that the retailer is adding value to the shopping experience – feeding the customer, educating the customer, or both,” says Jacobowitz. “The net effect of that on the customer is, ‘Wow, it is fun to shop here; this store cares about my business.’ And of course, if you’re not starving, you will relax and linger longer.”

Grocerant-Ready Ideas:

  • Outside demos when the weather is warm enough
  • Pre-event staff tastings to build excitement
  • Local advertising to expand event reach
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