Do demos really help food brands boost sales and build buzz?

It’s not uncommon to see brand representatives handing out product samples at in-store demos, leading many food and beverage firms to question whether those product giveaways actually help brands build sales and establish a following.

To quantify whether in-store demos drive purchases, it’s important to understand the difference between a demonstration and sampling.

“Sampling involves someone just handing out free samples of the food or drink, who may know minimal information about the product or how it should be used -- but at a demo, you're pitching the brand with educated demonstration specialists who know every aspect of it," said Jesse de Agustin, CEO of EDS Strategy LLC in Philadelphia. "That's what our Educate, Demonstrate, Sell demo framework is all about.”

Benefits for new brands

When done correctly, product demos can provide invaluable exposure to food and beverage products that are new to the marketplace. “Most purchase decisions -- about 60% -- are made in store, and shoppers won't typically gamble on a new brand without trying it first, so the demo is an intersection of the customer trying the product and learning about its benefits at the same time,” he said.

For instance, when de Agustin’s team offers product demos for Iconic Protein Drinks, the demonstration team typically sells an average of 47 -- to upwards of over 115 -- bottles in a demonstration, and those purchases lead to loyal customers. “Obviously you're going to get more sales on a demo day than on other days, but then we see the residual purchases where people get hooked on new brands, so we’re capturing attention the brand may have never gotten,” he said. Additionally, demos help the brand grow. As the company adds to its line -- for instance, Iconic’s new protein powders -- customers are more familiar and more likely to purchase since they’ve experienced the brand at prior demos, he said.

His firm usually achieves a conversion rate in which about 40% to 50% of those who try the product end up buying it. “That’s a result of our customer trying the product, our staff giving a solid brand pitch and having a well merchandised demo table,” he said. “I can't tell you how many times I’ve seen demos where the product is far away and the person has every intention of buying it but they can't find it, so it’s critical that the demonstration table merchandising is in perfect shape.”

When it comes to coupons, although many product demos do include them, they are helpful but not essential to the sale if the demonstrator has a good presentation, de Agustin said.

Avoid these common mistakes

There are several wrong ways to operate a demo, and a bad product demonstration can actually damage a brand. If companies aren’t committed to creating an effective pitch and training staff well, it may be a good idea to hold off on the demo until all the pieces are in place. In fact, it might be better for a brand to not demo than to implement a retail demo program with the wrong approach.

“It's all about quickly engaging people and knowing the product really well,” de Agustin said. “If we’re demoing a dairy-free yogurt, for example, we make sure shoppers know the benefits, the brand story and the differentiation between the competitors.”

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