Will other retailers follow Costco and bring back food sampling?
Costco announced that it is beginning a phased return to full sampling in early June after a 14-month hiatus, albeit initially with some safety protocols:
- All samples will be prepared behind plexiglass;
- Samples will be offered in smaller batches for better crowd control;
- Distribution will be made to shoppers one at a time.
Costco ended food sampling, seen as critical to driving trial and as an in-store perk, at its warehouses last March at the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
On last Thursday’s earning call, Costco CFO Richard Galanti said that, as various states opened last summer and fall, the chain brought back a few sampling events: single-serve items like cookies and crackers, take-out only, no-cook-to-prepare items and a few display-only talking demos.
Sampling’s return at Costco “will come in waves,” reaching 170 of the chain’s 550 U.S. stores in the first week of June with a goal of including all towards the end of the month.
“The first wave will actually determine how fast we roll out and what and when restrictions are lifted,” said Mr. Galanti.
Mask mandates severely restricted sampling. Costco in mid-May became one of the first retailers to allow customers who are fully vaccinated to shop maskless, unless one is required by state or local laws.
Costco also announced it will be bringing back seating at indoor food courts at half capacity in June with the return of in-store sampling expected to closely follow the return of food courts and self-serve stations. It expects to make both packaged and non-packaged options available as shoppers regain comfort with sampling stations.
“I think food samples will return, but I don’t see them returning in 2021,” Stew Leonard Jr. of Stew Leonard’s, the Northeast grocer, told TODAY last December. “It’s going to take a while for customers to get used to it and we are going to keep a close eye on the cruise industry and the casinos to see how they handle it. Right now, our grab and go meals are preferred by our customers because they are pre-packaged by our chefs and safe.”
- Costco Wholesale Corporation Reports Third Quarter And Year-To-Date Operating Results For Fiscal 2021 – Costco
- Costco Wholesale Corp (COST) Q3 2021 Earnings Call Transcript – Alpha Street
- Costco is bringing back free samples – CNN
- Miss grocery store samples? Here’s what grocers say to expect in a post-COVID-19 world – TODAY
- Pandemic May Have Ended Wegmans Buffet Bars – Patch
- Should retailers continue to require associates and customers to wear masks? – RetailWire
- Is it safe to bring back food sampling? – RetailWire
- Is it the right time to reopen food bars? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What measures may be necessary to bring food sampling back safely and ease shopper concerns? Will sampling stations likely work differently after the pandemic is resolved?