Bakers Journal

Fresh Trends: April 2009

March 20, 2009
By Michelle Brisebois

Samples might seem like an obvious way to entice customers, but here are some ways to make sure you maximize their effectiveness.


One of your most effective marketing tools is in your bakery showcase.

While our marketing might traditionally zero in on advertising and direct mailing, a strong tasting program is the most effective way to convert shoppers into purchasers. It should be easy, right? Just put out a small plate with bite-sized pieces of various menu items and let nature take its course. Not exactly.

While a tasting program appears to be a “no-brainer” to execute, the fact is – it’s not. Tasting programs are what we like to refer to as “moments of truth,” in which consumers make purchase decisions based on their direct interaction with your business. Tastings are definitely moments of truth, and if they’re done properly, they can significantly boost your sales.


Arbitron and Edison Media Research (in a Jan.18-Feb. 15, 2008, national telephone survey of 1,857 consumers) found that in-store sampling increases sales of the product sampled. Their research indicated that more than a third (35 per cent) of consumers who tried a sample purchased the product during the same shopping trip. This trend spanned across all customers – regardless of whether this was their first introduction to the product or a repeat purchase. About half of those who sampled indicated intent to buy in the future. This included 85 per cent of those who had never bought the product before. In addition, 24 per cent said they would switch from the brand they had previously planned to buy. A strong sampling program is one of your most valuable marketing tools, but proceed with caution – there are some key points to consider before you break out the platter.

Integrate tastings with other marketing messages
If your newspaper advertising features your signature cupcakes and your in-store signage does as well, make it a triple play by having samples of this product for tasting. Tastings are often used as an afterthought – a way to clear out a product that’s in an overstock situation or a slow mover – and that’s not the most effective way to use them. Tastings are promotional activities; make sure the sampling supports your other messaging.

Intercept or conversion?
Do you want the tastings to up-sell existing customers or entice new ones to come into your bakery? If you keep your tasting samples at the back of the store, you will be converting customers already in your store. An existing customer may switch from another product to the one available for tasting. This strategy does have its merits because you can introduce consumers to products they might not have purchased otherwise but you might also be only moving the money from one product to another. If intercepting and capturing new consumers is more appealing to you, then make sure the tastings come to the front of the store where people walking by can be enticed inside by the sample. Have a team member focus on sampling at the lease-line or on the sidewalk. If you don’t have a spare pair of hands to execute the tasting, try a sandwich board that says, “Red velvet cupcakes. Free sample today. Come on inside.”

Every baked good has a story
As consumers are sampling the baked good on tasting, have your team members tell them the story behind the item. You probably spent hours sourcing that imported chocolate or special ingredient from a local producer – your customers want to hear about it! A little romance before the sale goes a long way. The story goes that red velvet cake was a signature dessert in the restaurants and bakeries of the Eaton’s department store chain in the 1940s and ’50s. Devil’s Food Cake is another name for red velvet. The possibilities for great baked-good stories are endless.

Put your best food forward
Tastings are first impressions. Insist the samples are fresh, appealing in presentation and replenished often to ensure they look great. Have a team member make note of the date and time the samples are put out and set a routine time frame for freshening the samples. Small paper cups or liners will give the illusion that it’s a “special serving” rather than having samples loose on the plate. Control the placement of the samples so small children with food allergies can’t get at them.

Monitor and measure
How many samples did you hand out and what were the resulting sales? Were the sales “add-ons” to other purchases, or did you convince a customer to switch from one product to another? Did your overall transactions increase, suggesting you attracted new customers? Which products are the most successful in terms of conversion? As you measure your tasting programs, you’ll start to see patterns that will inform your future initiatives. Make sure you measure your results against predetermined objectives.

Make it ‘retailtainment’
Turn your in-store tastings into mini events. Why not pair that brownie with a gourmet dark-roasted coffee? Use tastings to involve customers in your menu development. Hold a tasting of two different recipes under consideration for introduction to your menu. Ask people to vote on their favourite and then post the results the following week. People will make a point of coming back in to see if their chosen sample won. Tasting seminars with themes will give consumers eager for a fun night out a reason to come to your bakery. Have blind tastings with chocolate from different origins and then ask people to discuss the differences. Tastings will allow you to bring your products to life and that’s good retailing.
A strong tasting program takes the risk out of the purchase for the customer. They’ll be happier buying it if they know they’re going to like it. Samples are like little bite-sized advertisements – tiny works of art. As Maurice de Vlaminck said, “Good painting is like good cooking; it can be tasted, but not explained.” / BJ

Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in helping companies grow their brands and can be reached at

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