Free sample strategy

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

December 2012

Those free samples at the supermarket or big box store are tempting, aren't they? Especially when you're hungry. The folks who set up those sample stations have an excellent marketing strategy and you need to know how to respond and to be a responsible shopper. That's assuming, of course, that you don't mind yielding to temptation.

You're likely to become aware of the goodies before you see them because of the aromas that drift over the aisles. That's no accident; the aroma of cinnamon buns or an Asian delicacy sends an appetite-stimulating signal to your brain. The portions are small enough so that you won't feel much guilt by trying one or two.

Positioning the sample carts in the main aisles makes them hard to avoid — an obvious marketing tactic. Most of the employees at those stations look like they just came from central casting, selected for their grandmotherly demeanor, pleasant smiles and patience in the presence of unruly children. They also tolerate the frequent flyer snackers who manage to make a meal out of the free offerings a couple of times a week. Of course, you'll also find a few Grandad types and even an occasional thirtysomething to round out the demographics.

From a purely business point of view it makes sense to display foods with the highest profit margins. They also tend to be high in fat and sugar, ingredients that are the most likely to tickle our taste buds. On a recent visit to a big box store I didn't come across any high-fiber offerings. These are comfort foods, after all.

There's nothing wrong with offering free samples. No one is forced to buy, there is almost never a hard sell, and many of us will agree that we have "discovered" a current favorite food item after succumbing to the freebie pitch. Samples provide an effective way to launch a new product or to revive an old one.

As a sensible shopper, first check the nutrition label. Unless it's something that you just can't live without, especially during the holiday season, follow the 24-hour rule: don't buy on impulse but wait for 24 hours before buying that item. After a little thought you might decide that it's not something that you need or whose ingredients cause you to veer off the healthy lifestyle path.

On the other hand, sometimes just giving in to an impulse might be a pleasant pick-me-up.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at