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Offering product samples is a dominant promotional strategy used by many companies. Previous research shows that samples can encourage people who would not normally buy the product to purchase it. Additionally, providing samples leads people to buy the sampled product earlier and in higher quantities. This study investigates if and how offering samples can increase purchases of the sampled healthy foods in a grocery store and also increase purchases of other healthy foods.
In the first study, 120 participants were randomly given either an apple sample, a cookie sample, or no sample in a large grocery store. Participants’ purchases were tracked.
In the second study, 56 participants were recruited from the participant pool of a behavioral lab of a large Northeastern University. Participants took an online survey that asked them to imagine that they were shopping at a grocery store and received either an apple sample or a cookie sample before shopping. Then then received an actual apple or cookie sample to eat. Finally, participants were given a series of paired healthy and unhealthy food choices and were asked to choose which of the two options they would want.
In the third study, 59 participants recruited from the same behavioral lab were either given a sample of chocolate milk presented as “healthy, wholesome chocolate milk,” a sample of chocolate milk presented as “rich, indulgent chocolate milk”, or no sample. In a subsequent online shopping task presented as a separate study, participants viewed an online grocery store listing different items and accommodating pictures. Participants marked which items they would like to purchase in each section of the virtual grocery store. Low-calorie/healthy options were paralleled with high-calorie/unhealthy options.
Results showed that offering healthy samples (Studies 1-2) or samples that are framed as healthy (Study 3) increases purchases of healthy food products that are both similar to the sample product (Study 1) and that are closely related to the sample product (Studies 2-3). This suggests that samples can function as primes, encouraging purchases of a greater number of products that are similar to the sample product. These results can be used by retailers in developing interventions related to choice healthiness
Tal, Aner, Wansink, Brian (2015). An Apple a Day Brings More Apples Your Way: Healthy samples prime healthier choices. Psychology & Marketing, 32.5, 575-84. doi: 10.1002/mar.20801