Here’s something every food maker knows: Sampling drives trial. Sampling also drives sales. Giving future consumers a taste of the product is perhaps the most honest of marketing tools (let the food speak for itself!) and the most effective way to engage and impress target audiences.
And those little samples taste so good! There’s nothing like that first bite, the first burst of flavor! That’s why the appetizer tastes so good and the entrée is so often disappointing; that’s why we love tapas bars. The sample is also valued because it’s free — we all love free stuff, no matter how small, and no matter how much money we have.
So why not try sampling healthy offerings to kids as a way to encourage them to select a new healthy dish?
As I’ve note in a previous post, I think it’s about time we applied the methods the food and beverage industries have been studying and perfected for decades to improve kids’ choices in the school cafeteria -- and at home.
Would sampling of healthy alternatives work?
I was glad to find a new study in the journal Appetite that took this idea and conducted a controlled test of the effect of healthy food samples on young people’s choices.
The study enrolled 197 Dutch 17-25 year-olds, and was performed in 5 college lunch cafeterias, in which 4 new, recently launched but unbranded products were introduced: Low fat bread spread, low fat cheese, fruit juice and a fruit and veggie juice.
(For those of you not impressed by the “healthy choices” in this study: I hear you and see your point. But arguing whether low fat margarine and cheese and fruit juices are “healthy” would distract us from the study’s main point, so let’s move on.)
For the experimental group, bite- or sip-sizes samples were placed in front of the new product. The cheese and low fat margarine were spread on a small piece of bread. A sign indicated these were free samples.
The control group was not exposed to samples.
For both the control and the experimental groups, the buffet products were identified by name, but nutritional information, such as caloric content, wasn’t mentioned.
Samples did drive choice of the new products. In fact, the new offered food was selected instead of the traditional full fat offering 15 percent more often when a sample was tried.
Try it at home, try it at school
A few ideas you can suggest to your lunch ladies:
• Place tiny trial size offerings in front of a new healthy dish: This way kids have a “no-risk” way of trying it. Even if the kid ends up going with the old familiar offering, at least he tried – every exposure opens the palate and mind a little bit!
• If you have a cafeteria line offer samples of the healthy stuff to sweeten the wait (a volunteer can do that): I’m sure those will be appreciated!
• Make it cool and catchy to try. Jamie Oliver gave out “I tried something NEW” in his Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.
Try at home:
• Offer a dinner preview: If you have parts of dinner ready well before dinner time – I’ll admire you for that – offer a bite of what’s to come as a sample when your kids come home from school. Mine usually arrive ravenous -- they’ll devour whatever I put on the counter.
• Create compelling samples: If hummus isn’t the subject of craving at your home, it might look much more exciting on a freshly toasted sliver of pita, garnished with a slice of cucumber, with a dark kalamata olive on the side for color contrast. I’m sure you have some great ideas on how to combine the tried and true with the unfamiliar.
• Offer samples to the hungry: Hunger is the best flavor enhancer!
• Some of my favorite sample containers: endive leaves, halved mini bell peppers, Chinese ceramic soup spoons, and ok, I’ll have to admit to this one: scoops baked tortilla chips – whatever you put in that scoop shaped chip will be devoured!
Please share your sampling stories!
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