Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Why grocery stores offer you free samples

Posted By on Wed, Feb 16, 2011 at 9:15 AM

Oh, the joys of a free lunch.
  • Oh, the joys of a free lunch.

I'd like to go back to a more innocent time when I was excited to see a slice of cheesecake in a paper cup or be handed a stack of veggie chips that I didn't really want to eat. Sample day at grocery stores and superstores was a wonderful day -- a time when shades of the Old Country Buffet were seen in aisle three, and you could have an egg roll, limited-release soda, and a cheese that you didn't even bother to read the name of before you gobbled it up.

But that was before the dark days of semen-tainted Greek yogurt and The Street's breakdown of the economics behind free samples. 

The piece paints a picture of the competitive landscape that is behind getting you to try a new breakfast bar or frozen meal. At warehouse chains such as Costco and Sam's Club, manufacturers pay to be featured at sample tables. And, apparently, according to The Street, it's our desire for free goods that is driving the market:

Companies who've played the grocery grazing grounds game before are becoming increasingly aware of their customers' fanaticism about freebies and are reserving the best spots for those willing to shell out.
Oh, and that new juice drink you're sampling? It might be on the floor because it was near the expiration date, and a grocery store decided to turn it into samples rather than throw it away in a few days. None of this is surprising (or even wrong). However, I preferred to think of samples as something chosen by a sample lady. I envisioned her coming in to work and deciding that the people needed mini cheeseburgers today. And then making all our cart-pushing lives a little better.

I'll still eat the sausage samples. I'm just a bit saddened now that I know what it takes to get them on the sample table.  

[Image via Flickr: Panegyrics of Granovetter]

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