COVID-19 changed the landscape of the CPG food industry. It accelerated the adoption of eCommerce and turned in-person experiences, like trade shows and sampling programs, upside down. Now, as COVID restrictions slowly lift, we’re seeing a gradual “return to normal”. Trade shows, like Supply-Side East, are opening back up to in-person participants, and stores are allowing in-store sampling again. As such, food brands and businesses will need to think of innovative ways to revamp their traditional sampling program, while letting customers know that their safety and health are at the forefront of the company's goals.
Why Are Sampling Programs Important?
Samples are small portions of a product that are given to potential customers free of charge so they can try a product before purchasing. In this way, sampling introduces people to new products without them having to make a financial commitment on the spot. Usually, sampling programs are utilized in supermarkets, wholesale stores, or food stores, where customers are encouraged to try a product with the hopes that they will immediately purchase it. But samples also play a huge role at trade shows and exhibitions, where brands, distributors, and buyers can connect and showcase their innovative CPG snacks to the industry. With in-person trade shows opening up, now is the perfect opportunity for food brands to get creative about how they plan to offer their nutritional snack samples in a post-COVID setting. Here’s how to get started.
Creative Ways to Offer Samples Post-COVID
Traditionally, samples were cut up and prepared directly in front of the end-receiver. This added a sense of immediacy and involvement in the process which worked to draw in potential customers. However, sampling in a post-COVID world will have to look different due to the health concerns around handling samples in front of customers or trade show attendees. The core of your new sampling process will need to focus on the safety of both your staff and end-receiver.
Here are 4 ways CPG snack brands can enhance their sampling program in a post-COVID world:
1) Offer Samples In Pre-Packaged Bites
Forget traditional samples. In a post-COVID world, cutting up a sample directly in front of a crowd will no longer be received well. In order to cater to the enhanced safety concerns of your consumers, try creating samples of your protein bars or toaster pastries as pre-packaged bites. By offering your samples this way, consumers or potential buyers will be able to easily pick up your samples and eat them in a more isolated space, without having to worry about exposed portions of food. As pre-packaged bites trend upwards due to their “on-the-go” convenience and accessibility, food entrepreneurs should adapt this sampling approach to stand out at trade shows or in stores.
2) Focus On Standing Out Through Packaging
Going hand in hand with pre-packaged samples, food brands and businesses will need to focus on their product’s packaging and design to make an impact. There will be a heavy emphasis on visual displays and package design to expand brand recognition and awareness. Having aesthetically pleasing and eye-catching packaging will not only add uniqueness to your product but will also attract curious buyers to come and pick up your sample. Not to mention, packaging that is well-designed and functional usually evokes consumer trust that the product itself has been crafted with an equal amount of care. In this way, thoughtfully packaged samples can offer added value that traditional samples typically do not have.
3) Leverage The Digital Space
Aside from in-person sampling, samples can be offered online to create a contact-free experience that will attract buyers who are still hesitant about in-person sampling. A good first step here is to start offering samples on your website that customers can have delivered straight to their doorsteps. You can either provide free samples as part of online orders or prepare special sample boxes. The latter gives buyers the opportunity to try different snack types before deciding on the full-sized pack they want to commit to. The added benefit of creating an eCommerce sampling program is the opportunity for food brands and businesses to step into digital wholesale marketplaces and reach a whole new group of food buyers.
4) Invest in Sample Runs
Sample runs are essential to a successful sampling program because they allow entrepreneurs to create a set amount of pre-packaged samples that can be immediately distributed to consumers. A great sample run size for items like protein bars and cookies is 10 to 20 grams per sample. This size not only gives customers just enough to make them want more but also makes it easy for consumers to pick up the sample and go. Because these samples are safely packaged, it allows them to stay fresh until the consumer finds the time to try them. With this in mind, it is wise to partner with a contract manufacturer that is well-equipped to handle sample runs. This will make it easy for food businesses to showcase their samples at expos, trade shows, or in-stores.
Update Your Protein Bar Sampling Program
Although revamping your sampling program might sound costly and time-consuming, this can be very cost-effective for brands and customers alike in the long run. With a thought out program, you won’t need to give away as much free product as it invariably happened during in-store sampling. The customers and buyers will also be able to make a more informed decision after trying various sample boxes.
As food brands navigate sampling in the post-COVID world, it is essential to embrace and adapt to the new normal. To stay relevant and on the cutting edge in a post-COVID world, food brands and entrepreneurs need to focus on creative sampling techniques. Offering samples in an innovative way will be a great opportunity for businesses to increase consumer engagement, brand awareness, and sales.