Get Food Samples to Millions For the Price of a Superbowl Ad

Imagine millions of people sampling your foods

Avocados from Mexico
••• Susie Wyshak

Sports fans loved the Super Bowl ad for Avocados of Mexico—the one hashtagged #FirstDraftEver. People like me, the sports ignorant, well we just didn't get it. And in fact, some debate whether Super Bowl ads are the best investment.

This commercial really fascinated me because I happen to know a bit about Avocados of Mexico. What they taste like. Their growing conditions. How they have more fatty flesh than others, making them perfect for slicing or guacamole.

That's because I once participated in a major sampling event to educate food writers all about avocados. We ate. We drank. We mashed the fruit (not a vegetable) into guacamole. This fun group experience firmly planted what we learned in my mind. Even though I'm a Californian, home to its own avocado industry, this taste test made me respect the quality of that Mexican fruit, unique due to its growing conditions.

A $4.5 Million Food Sampling Budget Could Would Wonders

The best food promotion is simple.

Feed people. Relentlessly. What do you do when you stroll a farmers' market? Eat samples. So when selling your own foods or drinks at a farmers' market, make getting that food into people's mouths  your number one priority. Samples are the best way to promote great food. Telling your story firsthand is great. That's what packaging does for you on retail shelves.

Sampling Food Sells Better Than Any Marketing

Costco evaluates if a new food product or product line is right for their store with a demo "roadshow." This temporary demo set up is all about sampling to build awareness and generate sales. Those sales predict future success—and whether Costco intends to take on the product. Then again, after a disastrous argument over Nutella waffles at a September 2015 demo, the future of Costco samples may see some changes.

That strange episode was like a real-world confirmation of an article on the psychology behind Costco sampling. "Samples have boosted sales in some cases by as much as 2,000 percent," according to this story in The Atlantic. Can you say "ROI" (short return on investment)?

Likewise, every food entrepreneur who has been accepted to sell in Whole Foods or other supermarkets gets the pressure to hand over the free product ("free fills") for passive demos. In a NEXT Accelerator webinar, Koel Thomae, founder of Noosa Yoghurt shared her successful strategy launching the company's Aussie-style yogurt product line through giving customers a taste. She supplements sampling with couponing through social media.

The Benefits of Sampling Food

Natural foods shoppers love to meet the maker. Knowing you also differentiates your foods from private label and / or lower priced alternatives. Whenever possible, show up. You may find great demo staffers (sometimes provided by the store). But you'll be hard-pressed to find someone with the enthusiasm and authenticity you can exude as the company founder...especially if you're the maker, not using a co-packer. In-person demos offer the new food entrepreneur a few more benefits:

  1. You get to enjoy seeing people taste your food for the first time.
  2. Their input lets you keep improving.
  3. You'll get ideas for pairing and future products.
  4. You and the store staff build a relationship.
  5. You bond with customers to build affinity and likelihood of repeat purchase.

And do I even need to state that the Fancy Food Shows and NewHope Natural Product Expos are built on a foundation of sampling till you drop?

3 Services Help You Get Food Samples Out There

Back before iPhones roamed the earth, there was BzzAgent, a social sampling company. The company continues to distribute food and other product samples, mostly from larger Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) companies, to "buzz agents" to test and share with their social circles.

In recent years, sampling services have taken on new dimensions, letting food manufacturers tap into consumers in creative ways:

  1. Reach Portlandia Millenials via Jeff Davis' SamplingLab, where consumers try out and give feedback on products.
  2. Sample nationwide with food subscription boxes, which appeal to food-curious types who enjoy receiving a box full of interesting, new foods. The subscription box companies have varying models as far as if you pay to be included or simply provide the samples.
  3. Get in front of wholesale buyers with Buyer's Best Friend (BBF Direct), from retailers to airlines to corporate snack buyers.

And don't forget the instant sampling effect the gift basket market offers!

My book Good Food, Great Business lists lots more sampling and demo success tips, compiled from the experiences of people who've been there.

Out of the TV, Into Their Mouths

One day virtual reality gives us a Willy Wonka / Mike Teevee-like experience of food popping out of a TV becomes reality. Until then, allocate that Super Bowl ad budget into a food production run and sampling program.