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Trader Joe’s slowly revives free food samples into select stores

Trader Joe brings back free food samples to select stores after years of being away
Trader Joe brings back free food samples to select stores after years of being away

Image source: Forbes

Trader Joe’s is finally bringing the free food samples back to its grocery stores, something that briefly disappeared at the start of the 2020 pandemic.

The return of in-store food samples surfaced over the weekend as shoppers began posting photos and videos on social media platforms.

The return of free samples

On Saturday, Trader Joe’s began offering freebies in select stores across the country.

Among the food samples in the shop they gave were Halloween granola and cookies.

According to employees of the New York and California stores, Trader Joe’s will offer single-serving snacks and treats to customers.

However, they do not offer hot coffee like before.

While food demos are making a comeback, Trader Joe’s will only be reintroducing them in select stores.

Natasha Fischer, who runs Trader Joe’s Instagram account and newsletter documenting Trader Joe’s latest findings, said:

“I’m excited. You used to get the coffee cups. The samples make everything a little bit better.”

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The free sample strategy

Free samples have been a selling tactic of supermarkets and food and beverage brands for years.

Paco Underhill, the founder of Envirosell behavioral research and consulting and author of How We Eat: The Brave New World of Food and Drink, shared that companies use the tactic to get customers’ salivary glands to work and get them to browse the store.

Sampling a product slows down customers and makes them want to linger in the store, making them more likely to add more items to their cart.

Yuval Selik, CEO of Promomash, a company that works with brands for samples and promotion strategy, said food startups use store demos to showcase their products and get feedback.

He highlighted KeVita Kombucha, Beyond Meat, and Kashi cereal as brands that used free samples to gain traction.

Pandemic impact

When the pandemic hit in 2020, food brands took a hit as stores removed the monstrous tables.

Even though it took some time, more and more companies started to recover.

However, with COVID-19 still present, some companies have changed their procedures to attract hygiene-conscious customers.

Today, shoppers will likely see employees standing behind tables handing out packaged samples or disposable cups instead of the usual self-service demonstrations.

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Other companies using free samples

In 2021, Costco brought back free food samples and added plexiglass stations to cater to hygiene-conscious customers.

Contract workers handed out the cooked items one at a time from behind the stations.

Sam’s Club also relaunched its Taste & Tips demonstration program last year, featuring snacks and charcuterie.

Taste & Tips initially returned over the weekend with limited quantities of sealed samples.

The company also works with supplies and helps select and schedule demos, offers new items, and allows buyers to try out a sample before purchasing.

“Demos have long been one of our members’ favorite experiences when they visit our clubs,” a Sam’s Club spokesperson said.

Whole Foods also brought back samples.

However, since some states or cities have a mask requirement, Whole Foods is only offering packaged samples instead of open samples in stores.

Since the company began rolling out grocery delivery and pickup across the country during the height of the pandemic, it has also given out samples at select locations in select orders.

According to Selik, things are gradually returning to pre-Covid levels.

“I think 2023 is going to be huge for samples,” Selik said, expecting another push for free food samples next year.


Trader Joe’s finally brings back free samples

Opinions expressed by Portland News contributors are their own.