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Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe, and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, now available on iTunes and sponsored by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.

This is the kind of stuff that makes me nuts.

There was a story in Advertising Age this week that carried the following headline:

Sampling: The New Mass Medium

And the first paragraph of the story read:

"One of marketing's oldest and least glamorous practices -- doling out free product -- has come a long way from the gray-haired ladies in the supermarket aisle. No longer the province of marketers who can't afford to buy mass media, deep-pocketed giants from McDonald's to Starbucks, Coca-Cola and Dunkin' Donuts are adopting sampling on a grand scale, turning it into a media event -- and, in some cases, the media buy."

According to the story, a report by Cannondale Associates suggests that even supermarket sampling is on the rise, and is expected to double in the next three years.

So, you ask, what exactly is it about this story that irritates the Content Guy?

Well, I don't doubt the veracity of the story. I'm sure that sampling is on the rise, and that a wide variety of companies are going to embrace it as a way of enticing shoppers.

No, what really gets my goat is the fact that so many supermarkets - supposedly in the business of selling fresh food and enticing customers and generating shopper loyalty by creating a compelling retailing experience that prompts people to return again and again – are going to end up playing catch up when it comes to sampling. And that's just the mediocre supermarkets. There will still be plenty of stores that won't understand the basic equation – that if you put samples out there, and they smell good and taste good, people are more likely to buy.

And this is what makes me nuts, because it makes me ask the following question:

What the hell are they waiting for?????!!!!!

The biggest criticism that can be made of the mainstream supermarket industry, it seems to me, is that too many food stores don't act as if they are in the food business. They focus on operations, on efficiency, on supply chains, on labor management…but forget that they are in the food business.

The ability to sample a wide range of foods – to entice the customer with tastes and aromas, to open a window on different cultures and geographies, to stimulate not just taste buds but imaginations – is one of the real advantages of being a food store. And yet, unless there is a manufacturer paying for one of its products to be sampled, too many retailers ignore one of the things that can make them different, give them context, create a differentiated environment.

And I'm talking about being aggressive about it, not just saying, "Well, if the customer asks for a sample, we'll give them one." That's nonsense. It is an excuse for not executing what should be an enormous strategic and tactical advantage.

There are exceptions, of course. Costco. Trader Joe's. Stew Leonard's. Price Chopper. Those are a few that come to mind.

But sampling isn’t nearly as prevalent as it should be in American supermarkets. When Ad Age wrote this story, it should have been about how McDonald's and Starbucks were going to school on programs executed to perfection by the supermarket industry.

But that's not what the story was about. And that's a shame.

For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I'm Kevin Coupe.

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