Sampling Beyond the Grocery Store: How Brands Can Continue to Use Sampling in New & Adaptive Ways

What better way for a customer to determine if they like a product than trying it first? Sampling allows consumers to taste or experience a product without putting their wallets at risk, while simultaneously allowing brands to advertise in the most authentic way possible: by letting a product speak for itself. When we think of “sampling,” many of us immediately think of the sampling table in the grocery store or the helpful employee handing out small cups of fudge outside the sweets shop. Although this is the image that comes to mind, sampling can also occur on a much grander scale when executed correctly, ultimately reaching a broader, less random net of potential customers in far more creative ways!


In-Store sampling is perhaps the most well-known and straightforward method of sampling, where stores provide a small amount of product for customers to try in-person while they are shopping. This method is useful by presenting customers with the ability to test a new product in the same location that they would purchase the product and targets consumers that already fall into the brands’ chosen audience. It offers consumers the chance to sample food at a grocer where they already shop or test lipsticks in a cosmetic store, and historically this has been enough. As the world continues to change, and brands face new and different challenges and obstacles, in-store sampling has evolved with the times, allowing agencies like NMG to push the sampling envelope, and find new and creative ways to use sampling to the advantage of brands.

NMG takes in-store marketing to the next level by bringing samples to the college market through a variety of channels considering ways to sample beyond the grocery store through different but applicable locations. On-campus fitness centers, book stores, and student centers are all locations that the average student is likely to frequent and give brands a focused edge on curbing the college market that simply isn’t as effective in the classic grocery store setting.

Although in-store sampling is a proven method and has traditionally been very useful, it also has its downsides, many of which have come to light in the face of the COVID crisis. In-store sampling is stationary in that it’s dependent on stores being open, often takes place indoors, and typically involves a considerable amount of in-person contact. To further improve upon traditional in-store sampling, NMG has taken advantage of mobile selling…or, in this case, mobile sampling. By taking a store and essentially putting it on wheels, brands can travel to their target markets rather than relying on customers to shop in a store and risk coming in contact with others. By moving to new and different locations, mobile sampling further allows brands to have a wider reach, potentially gaining traction with additional, unexpected new customers. Also, the outdoor nature of mobile sampling allows for interactions to take place in an open-air environment, where social distancing is easier to execute. 

Student Groups 

In-store and mobile sampling on college campuses is a great way to gain exposure to college students in general. Still, brands looking to target specific niches of college students may benefit from sampling that targets groups. Taking advantage of collegiate reach by creating brand relationships with student leadership is an effective way to spread a brand’s message and product through campus clubs, groups, and organizations. 

Through working closely with student leaders, and by using our extensive database of student organizations, NMG has been able to help numerous brands target students that fit squarely into their consumer base. In targeting specific clubs that are relevant to a product, like sampling protein bars to athletic clubs, or plant-based products to sustainability groups, brands can take advantage of sampling and peer to peer approval to leave a lasting brand impression. As with in-store sampling, certain aspects of this method present a challenge in the face of COVID related health concerns. As schools begin to open and with regulations around in-person campus experiences differing across institutions and states, we wanted to offer another solution that reaches students even if they’re not on campus, and that is where “goodie boxes” come in! This sampling capability comes to you in the most literal sense…straight to your mailbox!


“Goodie box sampling,” or mail-sampling, is a method wherein a brand sends samples of a product straight to a potential consumer. With this method, consumers don’t even need to leave their homes. The presentation of the products can be an exciting way for brands to feature graphic design, product information, and other relevant branded content as they offer what feels like a gift to students who are excited to be trying something new. In this format, brands can choose to showcase samples of their product alone, or team up with other brands in smart collaborations that create a cohesive message to students and future customers. By sending the product straight to the consumer, brands can use this method of sampling to reduce inventory and make use of soon-to-expired products creatively. 

The goodie-box sampling method can even be combined with student group outreach and SA programs, allowing for the best of both worlds in terms of targeted student access. During the COVID crisis, NMG has made use of goodie-box sampling to assist brands in distributing soon-to-be expired products to relevant student populations, limiting person-to-person contact, encouraging social distancing, and reducing waste. 

Sampling the traditional way has worked and continues to work for many brands. However, brands can and are benefiting from working with marketers who understand the flexibility of sampling, and can use it to their advantage. Through smart adaptations that help sampling evolve with changing times and technologies, sampling continues to be a useful method of product distribution and branding, especially when trying to reach college students.

For more information on sampling, college-reach, and more, contact us at