In the center aisle, try our new store-brand sauces. Kids, test your dunking skills with new Oreos from Nabisco down the cookie aisle. C'est bon! Sample some French specialties at the cheese counter. More supermarkets are going to the three-ring circus format when it comes to sampling.
Harris Teeter, Big Y, Clemens Markets and others are eager to create the same in-store excitement found at competitors such as Costco, where you can find a plethora of sampling stations throughout the store.
Clemens, Kulpsville, Pa., is literally driving home its sampling message with the Clemens Sampling Trolley, a customized food-service trailer used for product sampling and advertising.
A replica of an old-fashioned trolley, the trolley circulates to Clemens' stores. It stays at one store for four days before moving on to the next, according to Chriss Ruth, administrative manager of procurement and merchandising for Clemens, a 19-store operator.
"The Clemens Sampling Trolley draws a lot of attention whenever it pulls into one of our store's parking lots," Ruth told SN. "As the trolley is set up, people are asking about the hours and what kind of products are on board." Ruth noted the trolley is especially appealing to children.
The vehicle is branded with a large Clemens sign on top, the Clemens Customer Choice Card logo, and logos from participating manufacturers.
Clemens operates the trolley in partnership with Executive Dining Cars, Valley Forge, Pa., which also provides trolleys for weddings, corporate events and other occasions.
The trolley showcases products from about 10 vendors. Participating manufacturers have included Herlocher Foods, a manufacturer of dipping mustard; Quaker Oats Co.; Tasty Baking Co., the manufacturer of Tastykake snack cakes; and Herr Foods.
Each of the products sampled on the trolley is set up on a special display rack and cooler positioned at the store's entrance.
"The products are convenient for the customer to pick up as soon as they enter the store," said Ruth.
Harris Teeter, Matthews, N.C., has also taken a unique approach to sampling with its new "Taste of Teeter" initiative. The storewide affairs feature about 40 different tables set up throughout the store, according to Brent Bringhurst, group vice president, nonperishables, Harris Teeter.
The chain typically hosts about a half dozen "Taste of Teeter" events each year. It typically reserves them for new store openings, remodels and its "Arboretum" store in Charlotte -- its fresh-food prototype.
The chain positions the tastings as a formal affair, complete with invitations mailed out to customers based on frequent shopper card data.
The events feature both fresh and shelf-stable products. Much of the assortment is upscale and gourmet foods. Private-label items, including its Rancher brand of meats, are also included.
"This encourages people to try specialty and fresh foods that they may not normally try or spend $6 or so to buy," Bringhurst said.
Supermarkets are increasingly moving toward multiple sampling events like those at Harris Teeter, said Suzanne Gocke, senior vice president, Mass Connections, Cerritos, Calif., an in-store event and promotions company that runs the "Taste of Teeter" events. "Retailers are looking to create the same kind of excitement that the club stores create through samplings," Gocke said.
The benefit of these large events is that they are bound to leave a stronger impression on supermarket shoppers, she stressed.
"It's easy for a consumer to miss one sampling table, but there's no way for them to miss these events."
Big Y Supermarkets, Springfield, Mass., is another supporter of storewide samplings. The retailer involved the entire store in a special event called "A Taste of Big Y," held earlier this year.
Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market got the whole store involved in a different way. For Valentine's Day this year, the retailer ran a regional "Chocolate Fest," a one-day event that included a variety of chocolates for eating and baking in such recipes as chocolate fondue, sauce, mousse and signature squares. Shoppers could try the featured selections at one of several demo stations set up throughout the store.
Along with paying more attention to national-brand sampling, retailers are equally as interested in beefing up private-label programs, according to Gocke.
"These types of events are important for the consumer who may be leery of trying private label," she said.
Gocke pointed to Stater Bros. Markets, Colton, Calif., as an example. Mass Connections ran a major sampling event at the chain this month in support of Stater's new Dining In ready-meal line from Topco Associates, Chicago.
What made the event different from those at other retailers is that, along with several sampling stations, two mobile samples circulated throughout the stores to attract shoppers from other departments.
The event featured several of the 45 stockkeeping units in the Dining In line, including barbecued chicken pizza, vegetable lasagna, lemon pepper chicken and pot roast.
"This is the first time that [Stater] has gotten behind this type of an event," said Gocke. "Usually, private label is promoted with a national brand, but this is the first time that 100% of the focus is on private label." An official from Stater was unavailable for comment.
Like Stater Bros., Stauffers of Kissel Hill, Lititz, Pa., is discussing new sampling strategies. One being considered for later this year is a program featuring recipes from area restaurants. The idea is that local chefs would come into the store and prepare popular items from the menu with products found on Stauffers shelves, according to Warren Crills, grocery buyer.
"This will give the restaurant exposure, and give us the opportunity to promote the products in our stores," Crills said.
Stauffers has other plans in the works. One includes a sampling event strictly for kids. The "Kids' Day" event, which may take place in October, will feature about 10 kid-oriented products, including pizza, cookies, snacks, breakfast items and beverages. Sampling stations will be positioned throughout the store, including directly in the aisles.
Stauffers has even partnered with the Kellogg Co. to bring its Tony the Tiger character to its stores for face painting and other entertainment.
"Rather than trying to capture one person who passes by one area, we wanted the whole store to be involved," said Crills.
The goal is to turn an ordinary sampling event into a fun-filled day at the supermarket -- and, of course, increase sales.
"Once you get a sample into someone's mouth, nine times out of 10, they'll buy the product," said Crills.
Stauffers has made an even stronger commitment to sampling by opting to run all its sampling in-house. While it used an agency for years, it wanted to have more control over its sampling events. So several months ago, it began using a dedicated two-person team of Stauffers employees to conduct all sampling events. (Other store associates will help out during Kids' Day and other large sampling programs.)
When asked why Stauffers made the change, Crills said it enables the chain to place more attention on sampling.
He cited, for instance, how the chain's sampling events now have a more upscale presentation. Demonstrators are dressed in black and white, and wear an apron and hat with Stauffers initials: SKH. A floral arrangement created from the retailer's garden department adorns the sampling table.
Clemens has also opted for in-house sampling. It currently has nine in-house samplers that were hired and trained exclusively for sampling, according to Ruth.