Sampling Equals Sales and Satisfaction

Do you sample in your produce department? Not just occasionally, when a customer asks or when you think of it, but on a regular basis? Why not? Too busy? Too busy to increase your sales?

Produce manager Kevin Bollman from the East End Food Co-op in Pittsburgh, PA, says he doubled orange sales when he set up a sample tray on a Saturday afternoon.

Assistant manager Suz Felker, one of the famous Produce Bunch at City Market in Burlington, VT, is a firm believer in active sampling. "The minute we have a ripe avocado we start sampling. We can easily go through a couple a cases in a night." She added, "It's a great way to minimize shrink by helping sell your overstock." For example, she was sampling cooked Yukon gold potatoes with kabocha squash when I spoke to her.

You don't have anywhere to cook? Don't let that stop you -- it's not as difficult as you may think. You can start with your knife, your enthusiasm, and just about any produce item.

One way I help departments implement sampling is to break down the barriers. Start by reviewing your department with a daily taste. Pick out a few items and do random tasting with everyone who is working that day. This can get the engines of enthusiasm started.

If you don't want to walk the department and figure it out, then do your tasting when you receive your orders. You can also allow someone else to make the choice each day. This involves your staff and generates new ideas.

If sampling every day seems like too much, look at your sales and figure out your two busiest days. Then look at the peak hours of those days. For many departments that could be around 12 to 2 pm and 4 to 7 pm. Now that you've determined when to do it, let's look at how.

Make it a routine! We have routines to set the stand in the morning, close it at night, receive orders. Now give sampling its own routine. Have someone on each shift take time to cut up samples during the slow periods so that you can be ready for the busy hours. That way the crew doesn't have to stop and prep when they are working the stand but can still generate sales and keep your customers happy.

Next, get some basic info on the product. Any tidbit to spark the customer's interest will work. I was just working with the Community Mercantile in Lawrence, KS, and found an excellent book by Nancy O'Connor called the Rolling Prairie Cookbook. It's easy to read, has lots of basic information, and some great recipes. If you need a book to help you get started, it is reasonably priced and worth the read.

If you'd like to start today, how about picking out your favorite apple and setting out a platter at 5 o'clock? Why apples? Not only are they in season, but interestingly enough eating apples helps level out low blood sugar while stimulating your appetite. Thus, they are great to sample to customers as they enter the department, getting them excited about food and shopping after a day on the job.

Sampling is not just about generating sales. It's also about satisfaction. Your customers are looking for a connection to their food and often have very little knowledge about what they eat or even what to choose. Andru Moshe', produce manager at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, says it best: "Sampling is essential for making the connection of food to the farm. Customers remember flavors and aromas. Sampling is a way to seize the moment and share the very essence of the fruit or vegetable. By sampling we help create name recognition and customer loyalty for growers, and as produce people this is how we have fun! We can essentially spread the passion that has been passed on to us!"

It is well known that produce is the reason most people choose one market over the other. Sampling can be the difference that allows customers the opportunity to share in your world and makes shopping a positive and memorable experience. Share some food and enjoy the holidays.

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