NACS Show Rewind: The Glories of Food Sampling

A well-executed program can significantly impact category growth and profitability.

CHICAGO — A food sampling program can be an effective way to create an overall food brand and strengthen perception of convenience stores as a foodservice destination, according to Jerry Weiner, industry consultant and the convenience channel veteran who built the foodservice program at York, Pa.-based Rutter's.

Offering free samples can help c-store operators meet their own raised expectations, and create an opportunity to showcase items not anticipated in the store, according to Weiner, who discussed the benefits of sampling during the "Food Sampling Techniques & Why They Work" education session at the recent 2021 NACS Show

"Use sampling to wow your customers with something unexpected," he said.

For operators who are just beginning their foodservice program, Weiner recommends they start sampling during the breakfast daypart.

"It's the easiest daypart to execute, the fewest SKUs to manage, and the most likely to be competitive with QSRs," he said. "You can create items that can compete with McDonald's or Burger King. You have that customer in your store, let's say, getting your coffee. There's a way to appeal to them and if you do, you'll own that customer."

Sampling should be viewed as a marketing program with the labor costs expensed accordingly. Weiner advises creating a schedule of two rotating sampling days per week and setting aside two hours on each of those days for sampling. He believes this is a way to generate interest without placing too much burden on the operator.

"Estimate the cost of food you think you're likely to give away during the sampling period and, most importantly, always track results," he said.

A well-executed sampling program can significantly impact growth and profitability. C-stores can expect faster trial of new items, a ramp-up of units per day on limited-time offers, and a 20 percent or higher lift on the sampled items sold on that day, according to Weiner.

"The vendor community will work with you when they realize you're doing this seriously," he said, "because sampling works and they know it." 

The 2021 NACS Show took place Oct. 5-8 at McCormick Place in Chicago.