In the food industry, free samples are everywhere. Whether it’s cold cuts at the deli or pieces of baked goods at a bakery, people don’t say no.

In a study from 2010 that looked at 70 million households across the United States, 81% said they would try a product offered as a free sample. Everyone loves free.

However the question is, does offering free samples to customers actually increase my sales?

Offering free product, doesn’t seem like the best business strategy, however if done tactfully, it can benefit your sales.

“The average conversion rate for sampling efforts is 25-30%, meaning that a least a quarter of people who sampled a product, end up buying it” - Perry Abbenante, vice president of marketing at Snack Factory.

The law of reciprocity

You know that feeling you have when taking a free sample? The feeling that you owe that person something? That is the law of reciprocity.

According to behavioural economist and psychologist, Dan Ariely from Duke University, the relationship between buyer and seller is a market norm and is based on costs and benefits, such as expenses and profits. Reciprocity is an expectation of the market norm - if something if being sold, something will be bought. Free samples break the cycle. Something is being given, but nothing is being purchased. The disruption of this interaction, leaves the consumer with the need to return the favor - in this case, purchasing from you.

I do something for you, you do something for me.

This psychology can be implemented for every type of food product. Whether that’s a sample of a type of produce, snack food or meat product - it all falls under the same principle. Offering free samples works!  

Did you know?

For Costco, a fore leader in samples, when offering free samples, they saw:

  • 71% increase in beer sales
  • 300% increase in wine sales
  • 500% increase in frozen pizza sales with all purchases post sample
  • And packaged cheese doubling in sales

Obviously, Costco is different than an local food business, however the results are the same. Free samples can be a powerful tool, however it must be feasible for your business. Sending full products and covering shipping costs is not always an option, so here are some tips!

Ideas for free samples that won’t break the bank

Add free samples with purchase

Shipping is already paid for and you are making a profit off of the order. Adding a sample of a new or favourite product to an order shows great customer service and lets a customer try something new.

Set out free samples at pickup locations

When customers are picking up their orders at select pick up locations, go old school. Dependent on your product, lay out samples and let customers try a favourite or something new. No shipping or packaging costs for samples. Hopefully it will encourage a customer to buy something new next order.

Offer free shipping

Instead of sending a free sample, offer customers discounts on large orders or first orders such as free shipping to encourage purchase without costing you. Creating trusting relationships between customer and producer increases likelihood of repurchase.

Free samples to larger customers

When looking to sell to larger customers like restaurants, consider offering free samples. Often chefs want to try a product before committing to adding to the menu - however show up with your sample. Sit down, talk about your product and have a discussion with the chef. This will increase the likelihood that they will remember you and your product. For more tips on selling to chefs, check out this post.