Food for Thought

Ben Olson | October 24, 2017

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Well, if that’s the case, a taste would have to be worth ten thousand.  Actually, getting your target audience to experience the sight, the smell and the taste of your product is truly an immersive experience.  Assuming the product tastes great, it’s also the quickest way to build awareness, affinity and preference. And, when paired with an opportunity to purchase, it drives expanded trial and ultimately sales.

Through the years, I have been fortunate enough to work with some well-recognized brands as we’ve encouraged consumers, retailers and distributors to try new products or line extensions.  Whether on a trade show floor, in a pop-up on Michigan Ave., in-store, in the retailer parking lot, or at a small or large event, my team and I have given out hundreds of thousands of small bites.  Today, I’d like to share a few learnings for food sampling consideration:

Know Your Audience:  Many events have two levels or audiences; those who are there for the sample and those who are there to look for new ideas and options.  Not everyone who tries your product is in a position to buy it and it’s best to design your environment so “grazers” can get their sample and move on, yet qualified prospects can sample and engage.  If you want to discourage the grazers, position the sampling deeper within your space so the guest is qualified by staff before receiving the sample. 

Know Your Environment:  Food sampling can be a real treat for your audience, or it can be turn-off.  A tasty sample when you’re one of the only brands sampling is quite different than a show like Sweets and Snacks where EVERYONE is sharing a food sample.  When faced with an environment when your competition is also sampling, find a way to stand out:  1) present your sample more attractively, 2) downsize (or upsize) your sample to make it appropriate for the audience’s appetite, 3) use a server to share the sample instead of placing it on a table, and 4) engage with the guest as they try the product to share information and receive immediate feedback.

Know Your Queue:  A waiting line for your food sample is an opportunity for you!  Use that time to your advantage by engaging with guests while they wait.  By anticipating the queue, you can design an environment that brings guests into your space where you can visually, verbally and digitally message to them about your brand and what they are about to experience.  Qualify guests as they wait so you know which ones to engage with. And, most importantly, don’t make the sample the end of the experience – if they’re qualified, you don’t want them walking away once they get it.

Know Your Regulations: A little homework can prevent a big headache on event-site.  Know in advance what the regulations are for food sampling.  Understand the rules about portion size (food vendors in the venue can have a problem with samples that are deemed too large and potentially take sales away from them).  Understand the prep rules.  Are you doing food prep in your space or off-site area and what are the food safe requirements (like three-compartment and hand-washing sinks)?  Your experience marketing partner can help with this – use their expertise to avoid surprises.

Know Your Product:  Consider the optimum state of your product and work towards presenting in that state.  If your sample is intended to be hot, time your prep accordingly.  A cold slice of pizza might be okay the morning after a frat party, but it’s not what you want your guest to experience at a product launch.  If your product is baked or heated off-site, consider hot boxes or warming ovens to hold the product at the right temperature. Make sure your staff understands expectations for sample quality and equip appropriately to ensure your sample is at its best. 

Know Your Samplers:  Hired brand ambassadors or food service personnel might be your best option for food prep and serving, but they usually are often not the best people to share your message.  Consider pairing these in-market associates with a team member from your staff so your message and desired action comes across loud and clear.

Product sampling provides the chance to provide a taste of your product and a taste of your brand.  By creating the right engagement, the right environment, the right sample and the right message, you and your product can stand out at and after your next event.