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New products will be challenged without sampling

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Costco plans to bring sampling back to warehouses this month, but so far they’re one of the few retailers to make the move in the time of COVID-19.

And that leaves produce managers in a pickle when it comes to pushing new products.

Nearly every one of the 2020 United Fresh Retail Produce Manager Awards winners that participated in a Zoom panel at United Fresh Live on June 16 said sampling was the most effective way to introduce consumers to new items in the department.

And every one of them said sampling programs are on hold indefinitely.

Hy-Vee’s BB #:101759 Ronnie Minteer has found a way to work around the restrictions, and still promote newer items, by offering a complimentary piece of whole fruit to guests.

“At the beginning of this the Sumo mandarin oranges is an item that a lot of people hadn’t even tried,” he said. “We can’t sample them out but we can give them a free single mandarin orange. They come back and it’s not something they thought about buying before, but now all of a sudden, they’re buying that instead of the premium jumbo navel.”

That’s one way to get consumers to try new things. Another relies on heavier marketing efforts, like the Cosmic Crisp apple launch back in December. Consumers were coming into the store looking for the apple before it was available, Minteer said.

Big Y’s BB #:101444 Michael Foint said consumer reaction to the Cosmic Crisp marketing was noticeable in Massachusetts.

“We did the same thing at Big Y, that was the way to go,” he said.

Managers said they believe consumers will be hesitant to sample until they’re given assurances by authorities that it’s safe, and offered a few suggestions for successful new product launches:

  • Support and supplies sufficient to make big, impactful displays;
  • Customized Point-of-Sale materials, when possible;
  • Consistent supply: “…if we’re going to introduce a new product (make sure) we don’t just have it for a week, and then it’s gone. We want to make sure that we’re able to maintain the stock status, so if they buy it one time, they can get it again,” Minteer said.
  • A hot price – “We had it at cheap starting off and they were also throwing in an extra case for sampling to really get it out in front of customers,” said Clay Williams of Harp’s Food Stores BB #:167774, of a switch in brand in grape tomatoes.

Want more? Watch the full session here.


Pamela Riemenschneider is the Retail Editor for Blue Book Services.