GIVING IT ALL AWAY–Tips for sampling and selling your products

Artisans Amin Musa and Allen Keller discussing samples.

Artisans Amin Musa and Allen Keller discussing samples.

Many artisans that make their products at the Chefs Center will have to, at one point or another, do sampling. At farmers markets, food shows (such as the rapidly approaching Artisanal L.A.) or even on the floor of Whole Foods Markets, a good food demo operation can make a serious difference. According to an article by Kristen Jason, samples are not just for immediate gratification. Studies show that 81% of customers who buy something because of a sample are likely to buy it again in the future.

Through canvassing the people who’ve been there, we’ve come up with a good checklist for how to endear your product to passerby:


More than likely the business giving the samples is small and it is hard in the first place to give away product that not only you paid for, but worked hard to create. But a tiny sample does little to recreate the experience they are going to have when they purchase the product. Try to ride the line of giving away the maximum you can afford to give away. As Dwight Detter, a forager for Whole Foods Market urged in a recent seminar at Chefs Center, you have to be prepared to give away a lot of product especially in the first few years.


Since 68% of purchasing decisions are made in store, you can seal the deal by offering coupons at your sampling table. Get familiar with the store and the local health department codes on how to sample and do everything within given parameters to enhance the experience. This includes the display and the method through which a sample is given. Your product is awesome, but the clever biodegradable sample spoon with your logo printed on it will not only extend your message, it might very well seal the deal.


Before anything, as mentioned above, a vendor needs to know the health and safety codes for sampling. For example, many outdoor events in L.A. County require a sample be in a specific container with a lid. This may undermine the immediacy of the sample. You need to know the rules for obvious reasons. One not so obvious reason is how to conform to the rules without losing your message. Forming the right strategy for this might take some precious time.

Study the traffic at certain stores and events. If you are strictly a farmer’s market vendor, samples are always going to be necessary. But if you’ve gone big and you have a few stores to choose from, only a few may be worth your while. This definitely plays into the time slot. Before coordinating a time slot with the store manager, see if you can discern the best time to do it to maximize your sales and exposure.


At a Chefs Center seminar, Dwight Detter from Whole Foods Market used the Waffle Lady as an example of someone who did samples very well. Not only did she do adequate, enthusiastic samples for patrons, she took care of the staff on staff appreciation days. She was a part of community. The Department Team Leader will look upon her generation of sales favorably, but she added that extra something that makes her good to have around as one of the family.


Make sure you thoroughly train the person doing the samples if it is not you. Make sure they are on message, following all health and vendor rules and are trying to promote your product in good faith.

On a larger scale, there are firms that can be hired to take care of your demo needs. In Los Angeles, firms like Productions Plus will take on your brand and push it hard for a price.

Whether or not to hire a firm to sample and conduct in store events is one of the easier calls you’re going to make as a small food based business. Promotion firms aren’t cheap, but if you have the resources, they might be the right call.


Wrangle them in. Start the conversation. Make eye contact. Have fun. You didn’t knock on their door to sell them a subscription. This isn’t a hard sell big ticket item.  They are in a market or a fair and they are there to buy something. Half the battle is already won. The rattled salesmen in Glengarry Glenross learned this the rude way, but it’s true: you must “Always be closing.”


Behind the front desk of a Bohemian hotel in Hollywood was once a framed photo of a shaggy looking man. The caption on the photo read: “Be nice to this person. He may have just sold a million records.” You sell organic, vegan, gluten free cookies and there is a group of men cruising past that look like they have eaten nothing but salami since the Clinton administration. They may not look like they eat your product…but they may aspire to look like they have been. Samples are a perfect way to convert them and start them on the road to being a loyal customer (and healthier people). And you never know; one of these people may just be a buyer for a large market or a famous blogger.


Try to fit as many words that will give people pause into your schtick as you can. You might be gluten free, but what else you got? Are the chocolate chips in the gluten free cookies fair trade? Fold that into your pitch. Be prepared to dial in on what inspired them to stop by your table or display and work that angle. Know the answers to every conceivable question they may have about your product. They will not only be better informed, they will see your passion for what you’re trying to sell them.


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