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Demo Time

We rolled into the convention center here in Boston a bit later than we'd wanted, though still in time to catch one of the last retailer seminars of the day. The session I decided to sit in on covered in-store educational demos -- a concept that's starting to grow on a lot of retailers in this down economy.

Indeed, with their budgets tighter now than ever, consumers are looking for the type of recipe advice and money-saving tips that demos can provide, according to nutritionist Jennifer Brewer. Brewer, who helps craft healthful in-store demos for New Leaf Community Markets in Santa Cruz, California, recommended using sampling stations, cooking demonstrations and more as a way to not only promote products, but to genuinely meet shoppers' needs. Teaching someone how to cook kale, for example, establishes the store as a resource for helpful culinary tips. It also builds a relationship that can prove invaluable in the long run.

Produce items especially, according to Brewer, are an ideal focus for cooking demos. That's because a lot of consumers who are just starting to flex their culinary muscles don't know how to incorporate things like squash or green onion into their meals. Bulk foods, private label and meals for under $15 also work well in a demo because of their value.

Brewer also recommended running store tours that cater to specific needs, such as allergies and gluten-free, as well as bringing in local farmers to promote what they've grown. "You can't put a price on the passion that they bring into the store," she said.