In-Person Sampling Returns
Offering samples in stores or at events traditionally has been an effective way for potential customers to try new products or even old favorites within the cheese and dairy industry. As many of these samplings were put on pause during the COVID-19 pandemic, cheese companies are eager to get cheese back in consumers’ mouths.
“Prior to the pandemic, we did a lot of in-store demos. It has always been important for us to have people try our product, especially outside of the Midwest where they may not be familiar with what cheese spread is,” says Brittany Requejo, marketing manager for Pine River Pre-Pack Inc., which makes a variety of cheese spreads.
“We had great sales success whenever we were able to offer samples, even better if the store had a sale going on at the same time as the demo. We also took advantage of local events that we could provide samples at — beer fests, local wineries, community events, etc.,” Requejo adds.
However, with the COVID pandemic hitting worldwide the last few years, nearly all opportunities for in-person sampling were temporarily suspended, challenging companies and stores to find creative new ways to share their products with customers.
Pine River focused on sharing products via mail and offering opportunities through online platforms.
“We focused our B2C marketing on giveaways online where we could send winners our spreads. For B2B sampling, we would send product ahead of a Zoom meeting, so they would have it for our discussions,” says Requejo.
She notes the company also spent additional budgeting on geo-targeting to capture consumers when they were at a store to keep a contact-free foothold in the in-person platform.
Kevin Hevrdejs, vice president of club sales for Emmi Roth, says pre-pandemic, the company supported in-store demos, or free taste samples of items, with retailer partners.
However, during the pandemic, Emmi Roth heavily utilized its previously established digital campaigns to reach consumers.
“Our marketing team became very active with digital campaigns years before the pandemic, which set us up nicely to scale efforts even more during the pandemic. Our marketing team worked with retailer partners to target specific items in specific markets, depending on the individual customer situation,” Hevrdejs says.
“Additionally, we now have an e-commerce manager dedicated to our digital sales, including e-commerce promotions, advertising and optimizing product databases to ensure images, usage suggestions, etc. are available to help consumers when they visit store websites online,” he adds.
Lauren Dykes, senior brand manager for Schuman Cheese, says the company participated in many retail and club demo and sampling programs pre-pandemic with new launches as well as core products.
During the pandemic, Schuman Cheese offered many virtual sampling opportunities to buyers and prospective customers through email campaigns.
“For consumers, we introduced a first of its kind series, ‘Cheesing with Cello!’ The series started as a virtual touchpoint to keep ourselves engaged with our consumers safely and also provide safe, enjoyable experiences that helped them Cheese Confidently as they spent more time at home,” says Dykes.
“Partnering with an array of influencers, we hosted a series of Instagram Live events that centered around different cheese recipes, pairings and more to showcase product application across a variety of formats and occasions,” she adds.
Requejo notes in-store demos have started up again, and many events/festivals are inviting Pine River to sample, “so we are looking forward to a busier summer.”
Pine River also does Instagram giveaways to increase followers and share its products with new customers.
Hevrdejs notes Emmi Roth is talking to retailers about sampling again, “but they are dictating how those programs will take place. Where there has been a ‘re-opening’ of demo activity, we are working to support it.
“Demos are typically only a one-day event, so we only reach a small fraction of consumers,” he adds. “Savings booklets or store flyer promotions are used at times to extend reach. A booklet may provide weeks, if not a full month, of promotional opportunity, allowing us to touch more customers.”
Like Pine River, digital influence also has grown tremendously for Emmi Roth, allowing for more options to target audiences before they step foot in the store, after they make online purchases or as part of their online shopping experience, Hevrdejs notes.
Schuman Cheese has taken a hybrid approach of pre-pandemic and pandemic tactics to safely interact with customers.
“We have started sampling in-store again with Cello and Vevan, continued to offer virtual demos and evolved our aforementioned ‘Cheesing with Cello’ series, gaining more viewers and participants each time. The hybrid approach allows us to meet people where they are comfortable,” Dykes says.
Pine River also has expanded some of its product offerings to further meet customer demand in the coming months.
“Cranberry Cheddar, typically a seasonal item, is now available year- round as one of our 19 cold pack flavors. Mango Habanero joined our cold pack lineup in 2021 and has been earning praise ever since,” Requejo says.
Pine River also will be attending the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA) conference and the Summer Fancy Food Show in the coming weeks.
“We make sure to bring along samples of all three styles of cheese spread that we offer — Cold Pack, Clean Label and Shelf-Stable Gourmet Snack Spread. And when possible, we like to bring along most of our flavors so that we have them available for potential customers to try,” Requejo says.
In addition to the new Cranberry Cheddar and Mango Habanero flavors, Requejo adds that Pine River always brings top sellers — including Port Wine, Sharp Cheddar, Smokey Bacon, Spicy Beer and Swiss & Almond — along to trade shows.
Emmi Roth also has launched several new items, including flavor enhancements to core cheeses and line extensions, the company says.
“We’ve launched three new flavors of Gouda, including Spinach Artichoke, Hot Honey and Buffalo Ranch, and have a few exciting new additions coming this fall,” says Hevrdejs.
These new Roth Gouda flavors, as well as classic staples from the Roth Cellars Collection, Roth Havarti, Blue and Goat cheese lines, and Emmi cheeses, can be sampled at the IDDBA conference and the Summer Fancy Food Show.
The company also will be offering samples of its recently acquired Athenos brand, which specializes in both traditional and flavored Feta cheeses and hummus.
In addition, at various events and conferences this summer, including the American Cheese Society conference, Emmi Roth will be debuting three new flavors: Roth Tomato Basil Havarti, Roth French Onion Havarti and Emmi Beer Fondue.
Beyond offering samples, Schuman Cheese believes it is crucial to find creative ways to engage with consumers.
“The Cheesing with Cello program is a prime example of this. Overall, we’ve found this technique of creative consumer experiences to be most impactful in driving brand affinity, awareness and purchase intent,” says Dykes.
This summer, Schuman Cheese is bringing back its Cello’s Everyday Cheese Flight, which will be available throughout the season for summer entertaining, cheese board building and other festive needs. The Flight pack includes Irish Cheddar, Dijon & Herb Rubbed Fontal and Creamy Smoked Gouda.
Schuman also offers Cello Snack Packs, which are a customer favorite in the summer because they are portable for picnics, the beach or just on the go. The company also has released a brand new product as part of its Vevan portfolio: UnCreamCheese. Expected to be available in August, UnCreamCheese is a plant-based spread that comes in a variety of flavors including Plain, Caramelized Peach & Maple, Garlic & Herb and Strawberries & Cream.
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