DENVER — Whole Foods Market's Cherry Creek store here is more than doubling its sales of iced teas marketed by the unit's ready-to-drink-tea share leader, Sweet Leaf Tea, with a series of sampling events hosted once or twice weekly.
“They're selling pretty darn well,” Travis Brockavich, grocery team leader at the Whole Foods location, told SN. “Since this January, weekly [incremental] sales are up $300, on top of a base that's close to about $200,” when demos are hosted.
Brockavich is part of an internal Whole Foods team that hosts about three out of every four sampling events taking place at the store.
“We've created a demo program to help support companies that don't necessarily have [the resources] to demo themselves,” said Brockavich. “They pay us to help create an atmosphere for their product.”
Although Sweet Leaf Tea relies on Whole Foods to host demos in this particular location, nine in 10 of all of its sampling events are staffed by members of the supplier's own separate team, noted Joel Skurnick, director of natural foods for Sweet Leaf Tea.
The sales lift resulting from demos hosted in the Cherry Creek store aren't necessarily typical of events hosted in Whole Foods locations in other regions, he added.
“It depends on how established we are in a particular store,” said Skurnick. “If we were to talk about [Whole Foods'] Lamar store in Austin, Texas, it'd be impossible to double sales, but we recently demoed in [stores] in the North Atlantic region for four weeks, and each week sales were up over 1,000% over [that week] the previous year.”
The use of Sweet Leaf Tea's internal team members contributed to the dramatic lift in sales, said Skurnick.
Although the supplier trains members of Whole Foods' team prior to demos, “There are no people who can host these demos like we can,” he said. “Not that we don't see a lift in numbers at events hosted by the [Whole Foods team], but there is definitely a difference, since they may be demoing iced tea today and ice cream tomorrow.”
Sweet Leaf Tea team members are trained to engage employees and consumers, noted Skurnick.
“We own the demo, from the moment we walk in the store,” he said. “We walk around and introduce ourselves to [employees], hand out pins, bandanas and coupons that are good for a free bottle of tea — so by the time we set up our table, there is a bit of a buzz going around the store.”
When they are available, Sweet Leaf Tea sets up sampling stations that are made to look like an old-fashioned lemonade stand, sitting on top of artificial grass.
Team members are instructed not to let a consumer walk by without at least saying hello and trying to get them to sample the product, noted Skurnick.
“Demo people are trained to talk to the consumer about what they normally drink,” he said. “Their first reaction is usually to say ‘No thank you, I don't want to try it,’ but they'll inquire why, and it's usually because ‘I don't drink caffeine’ or ‘like tea that's sweet.’ Since we have different options, we can offer them something else.”
All Sweet Leaf Tea varieties — including The Organic Original Sweet Tea, Organic Mint & Honey Green Tea and Lemon Lime Unsweet Tea — are available for sampling during the events.
Also inciting trial are buy-one, get-one-free coupons that are redeemed by between 50% and 60% of recipients. Coupon distribution is strategic.
“We decide who gets a coupon based on a consumer's interest and whether they've tried the tea in the past,” said Skurnick. “We bring a limited amount of coupons with us, so when they're gone, they're gone.”