Food Brands Need Experiential Sampling. Here’s Why:


This post was originally published on 12/13/2016. Due to its popularity, it was updated with new information on 6/20/2018.

Food brands all face the same challenge. Without sampling, it’s nearly impossible to convince someone to become a reoccurring customer. When asked by Sampling Advisors, “What would induce you to try a new product or brand?”, 73% of consumers said, “product sample.” So, sampling is a no-brainer solution for food brands to launch products or enter new retail channels.

According to this article by the Atlantic, sampling programs are successful because they impose a sense obligation onto customers. Taking a free sample, particularly when others are around, ignites a reciprocity instinct, making consumers much more likely to purchase that product than before the sample was taken.

Here’s the problem, this tactic rarely results in repeat customers (an important note for any business, not just food service). Why? Is it because your food tastes terrible? Is it because there weren’t any samples during their next grocery trip? We could speculate about any number of reasons why someone wouldn’t re-purchase your products, but the crux of the matter is: The brand didn’t provide a great experience.

Aligning your brand with a feeling of obligation or reciprocity isn’t a formula for success. The Chick-fil-A experiential campaign featured in this article is an excellent example of experiential sampling done well. Consumers want to connect with your brand on a personal level and enjoy the entire experience, from shelf to stomach. We talk about this phenomenon in our article “The Basics: Experiential Marketing with Shipping Containers”

“Engagement (experiential) marketing encourages customer participation with the brand and provides a platform for customers to actively involved and develop relationships with a brand. The philosophy is that customers should only engage in sales relationships when and how they want. Experiential programs are typically sensory experiences with emotional connotations while also delivering logic-based value propositions and supporting evidence. When done well, you’ll start connecting with customers who want to hear from you in interesting and meaningful ways.”

So, introducing your product with a sample cart at Costco may not be a no-brainer decision after all.

Experiential marketing captures the face-to-face tactics that have always been a major part of successful food service companies, while still holistically considering the customer experience. This includes:

  1. Who you’re hiring and how you’re educating and indoctrinating them into your brand. Aligning your hiring and training with demographics, personality, and necessary certifications that are important to your market greatly impact the success of your campaign.


  1. Branding everything. I mean everything up to and including booths, shirts, hats, displays, and giveaways.


  1. Reporting your findings and keeping track of the immediate and long-term success of your campaigns. Food is very personal to everyone so, keep track of immediate and long-term responses on social networks or other feedback tools. Your findings will allow you to make necessary adjustments in how you’re hosting your experiential marketing events.


Taking a global look at how your food brand is represented in the public is an absolute necessity. Want to make people feel good about associating with your food brand? Read our eBook below to find out how other foodservice brands are using shipping containers and purpose-built structures to optimize their customer’s experience.