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Back to the future with sampling

Back to the future with sampling

I visited my local farmers' market recently. As ever, I was struck by the community feel it creates: I saw a few people I knew, and the food felt fresh and local.

But what really struck me this time was how much energy was created by sampling. Pretty much at every stand you could sample something. And it provoked conversation: both between the customer and the seller, and among customers.

Add to that a remarkable number of food-to-go stands, offering many different types of street food (with samples), and it was a place to spend time and chat.

Contrast that with my trip to the local supermarket. Service at the counter and at the checkout was polite enough, but it was largely transactional. There was no sampling, to provoke a conversation: if I wanted to try a product, I had to buy it. And what food-for-now options there were had to be eaten elsewhere. I didn't even notice anyone else.

Perhaps I had sampling on my mind thanks to P&G, who recently announced major changes to their marketing approach. Although mentioning less advertising executions and more investment in digital, they actually highlighted a big increase in sampling: they want to get people to try their products.

Sampling, of course, is as old as retailing itself. And some markets have put it to good effect. The sampling station always seems to be a gathering point at Trader Joe's, and it's the only reason I can get my kids around Costco.

But alongside all the digital and mobile developments, perhaps it's time for a concerted effort at sampling in the supermarket. Add to that food-for-now that can be consumed there and then, and you never know, I might start seeing my neighbors.

What do you think?

Simon Uwins is a former CMO of fresh&easy and Tesco UK, and author of Creating Loyal Brands (2014). Find him online at

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