SN: Sampling and demo companies are growing. It creates consumer trail and excitement. Has this been a growth area, especially in terms of boosting the specialty food business?
In general, it's more than being able to taste specialty foods. It shows the consumer how to prepare the product, or how it fits in with normal diets and how it can make an occasion a little more special for them. People are hungry for that kind of learning and education. They're looking for the grandmother-type demonstrator to tell them that this is how the product should be prepared and used.
It's absolutely critical to the success of our products and it's essential in creating the circus-like atmosphere in the store. It can make a store more fun. But most retailers look at it as a profit center rather than a contribution.
SN: Are access fees paid to stage sampling a good thing or bad?
HIGHSMITH: We work it both ways. We have a demo company that we work with and there is a fee paid to demonstrate in our stores. We also do a lot of demos ourselves. It's very important to us. It does create excitement especially in our larger stores. We try to have at least five demos every Thursday through Friday in every store. We do a lot of them ourselves and we sell a lot of demos.
I don't think the manufacturer ever really gets the sales on that day or weekend of the demo that he needs to pay for the demo, but they do build future sales.
THOMPSON: We actually launched our main product 13 years ago through demos. In many of the larger markets, the demos did pay for themselves on that date. The reason for the success was because of the person we used. We used an excellent salesperson at that table.
Part of the problem is the pie is only so big today, and if all the money for promotions gets allocated for other reasons [slotting allowances], it doesn't leave money for demos. The demos we do now are less effective because the person behind the table is not as motivated as someone we train.
SIGEL: A demo has to be looked at by manufacturers as method of advertising and investment in the future.