Untapped Potential of Free Samples for C-Stores

The Untapped Potential of Free Samples for Convenience Stores

One of the main reasons I like to tag along for our monthly Costco trip–much to my wife’s chagrin–is the free samples. Not only does it give me the opportunity to try new food and beverages before buying them, but it also satisfies my hunger. As the foodservice category continues to experience growth with convenience stores, I’ve noticed more and more of the nearly 155,000[1] c-stores throughout the United States are taking a page out of the Costco playbook and getting into the sampling game themselves–and for good reason.

“People love free, people love food, and thus, people love free food,” says Joe Pinsker of The Atlantic. “Retailers, too, have their own reasons to love sampling, from the financial (samples have boosted sales in some cases by as much as 2,000 percent) to the behavioral (they can sway people to habitually buy things that they never used to purchase).”[2]

“People love free, people love food, and thus, people love free food,” says Joe Pinsker of The Atlantic.

La Crosse, Wisconsin-based Kwik Trip is one of the growing number of convenience stores to recognize this–and they do sampling well. I should know. I will often make the conscious decision to drive just a bit further to one of their stores knowing that when I walk through the front door there will, more times than not, be a friendly Kwik Trip employee greeting me with a hot slice of their freshly made take-and-bake pizza. And do you know what? Not only do I actually enjoy the samples, I sometimes even buy a whole pizza to go.

Convenience Stores Can Profit from Free Samples

I can hear the skeptical c-store owners right now incredulously saying, “I can’t afford to hire another employee just to hand out samples!” Fear not, as “retailers can expect suppliers to shoulder some of the financial outlay of running a sampling program,” writes Sarah Hamaker of NACS, an organization considered to be the leader in the c-store industry. “Buddy’s Kitchen gives an allowance per sandwich to the retailer to offset sampling costs, often working with suppliers to help defray expenses. Goya Foods supplies the retailer with the sampled product, asking only that the store order enough stock to cover any product sales.”[3]

If you haven’t explored starting your own sampling program, you should consider it. Discuss it with your suppliers and distributors. Ask them how they might suggest you go about it. Your customers, your bank account–and my belly–will thank you.

As a c-store owner or manager, it’d be great to get your take on giving out samples in your stores. Lessons learned? Success stories? Advice for retailers looking to try sampling themselves? We’d love to hear from you.

 1. NACS Online, "How many convenience stores are there in the United States?" [http://www.nacsonline.com/asknacs/pages/how-many-convenience-stores-are-there-in-the-united-states.aspx]
 2. The Atlantic, "The Psychology Behind Costco's Free Samples" [http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/10/the-psychology-behind-costcos-free-samples/380969/]
 3. NACS Online, "Sample Sales" [http://www.nacsonline.com/magazine/PastIssues/2010/May2010/Pages/Feature4.aspx]

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  1. […] In-Store Sampling–Have you considered how sampling can increase sales? Look beyond the “free doesn’t make me money” concept and check out Andy’s blog post: Untapped Potential of Free Samples for C-Stores […]

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