How brands are doing samples in a pandemic

When the pandemic upset the time-tested practice of in-store sampling, brands got creative.


September 7, 2021

“Just one… OK, maybe 10” (Source: Noel Hendrickson / Getty Images)

Free samples — arguably the best part of grocery shopping — disappeared at the onset of the pandemic.

As consumer behavior changed, brands were forced to rethink the time-tested practice.

Sampling is important because it works

Not only does in-store sampling introduce new products and refresh old ones, but also it sways shoppers from their usuals, increases store loyalty, and creates a sense of reciprocity.

  • In 2005, Marsh Supermarkets found that sampling could increase purchases as much as 2,000%.
  • To reboot its image, Spam gave away 100k+ samples at 65 UK stores. Sales rose by 656% that week and 10% that year.
  • A 2019 study found 85% of samplers who bought a product were 1st-time buyers. Samplers were also 11% more likely to buy again within 20 weeks.

Meanwhile, not sampling hurts. Rodrigo Salas of Molli Sauces told Eater that sales dropped ~30% after the pandemic halted sampling in 2020.

With consumer behaviors shifting…

… brands are testing new sampling techniques — and some of them are pretty creative:

  • Heineken partnered with meal-kit service HelloFresh to let customers try its new nonalcoholic Heineken 0.0 with their dinners.
  • Coca-Cola stuck samples in online shopping orders and donated products to frontline workers.
  • The Freeosk is a contact-free kiosk that dispenses packaged samples at Albertsons, Walmart, Safeway, and other retailers.

We can’t speak to the actual quality of samples from a Freeosk, but what a great portmanteau!

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