5 Latest Strategies CPG Brands Are Using To Drive Trials

Sometimes it’s hard to believe the level of change we’ve seen since 2020. 

Let alone keep up with it. 

Take product trials, for example. COVID completely upended traditional strategies like events and in-store demos — causing drastic changes to what was once standard practice. 

So, if you have new products to introduce, here are 5 strategies CPG brands are using to drive trials now. 

1. Sending free samples home with online grocery orders

Image credit: Instacart

As you know, consumers are shopping increasingly online, even as the pandemic wanes. This means they’re not browsing the aisles like they used to, discovering new products, or making impulse buys. 

So to get new products in front of these online shoppers, many brands are turning to Instacart and other online grocery services to deliver free samples on their behalf — a powerful strategy to counteract the habitual nature of online shopping and promote discovery. 

Case in point: Cure Hydration and Coca Cola

Cure Hydration, the maker of fruit-flavored hydration powder packets, had just made its way onto the shelves of major retailers like Walmart, CVS, and Whole Foods when the pandemic struck. 

Sadly, with customers speeding through the aisles, laser-focused on necessities, or shopping entirely online, no one was discovering their new product. So Lauren Picasso, Cure Hydration’s founder and CEO, decided to try another strategy to get her products into baskets — free samples tucked into Walmart’s curbside pickup orders.

“As an emerging brand, we wanted to find a way to get in front of customers knowing they’re not browsing in stores as much as they used to,” Picasso said. And according to Picasso, the samples lifted sales, while costing less than in-store demonstrations and scaling more easily across about 1,000 stores.

And this strategy isn’t just for emerging brands. When Coca-Cola released its first energy drink back in January 2020, the company hoped to market the new beverage through an experiential sampling program.

But because of the pandemic and the need for social distancing, Coca-Cola adjusted its strategy — opting to insert its energy drinks into online grocery pickup orders instead. 

To do the same thing for your own brand, you can partner with Instacart or specific retailers to include samples in customer orders. 

2. Using digital rebates to replace in-store sampling

In addition to not being seen on the shelf, CPG brands also faced the demise of in-store sampling — as COVID and the accompanying health restrictions made traditional demos all but impossible. 

Fortunately, digital rebates turned out to be a saving grace for many brands that rely on in-store sampling to drive product trials. And they continue to be a powerful strategy as we inch towards a post-COVID future. 

If you’re not too familiar with digital rebates, it’s when you offer a customer a rebate that can be redeemed via their mobile device. Customers simply scan a QR code or click a button on their phone. Then they snap a picture of their receipt and money is immediately sent to their PayPal or Venmo account. 

Like sampling, digital rebates remove the cost barrier and allow customers to try a new product for free (or at a reduced cost, depending on the rebate). 

Case in point: Phusion Projects 

Back in the spring of 2020, Phusion Projects was ready to launch its new product, Basic Hard Seltzer, and was planning to rely heavily on events and in-store demos.  

Once Covid rendered that impossible, Phusion decided to shift marketing funds away from events and into digital rebates, partnering with Koupon (that’s us!) to develop a robust campaign.

  • The objective: Drive awareness of Basic Hard Seltzer by engaging large-format consumers.
  • The strategy: Use in-store POS signage to encourage consumers to text in to receive a digital rebate. 
  • The offers: $3, $5, or $10 cashback when you buy one Basic Hard Seltzer 12 pack, any variety. Or get a FREE Basic Hard Seltzer 12 pack with a rebate, any variety up to $17.99. 

The Basic Hard Seltzer rebate campaign ran from May through December 2020 — directly engaging 37,800 consumers and achieving a stunning 58% conversion rate. 

According to a representative from Phusion Projects, “The rebate campaign definitely helped sample the product and increase display activity in retailers, which is the biggest piece of what we were trying to do.”

3. Setting up direct-to-consumer sales

Image credit: Pipcorn

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales have vaulted to the forefront, as consumers shop increasingly online. In fact, analysts predict DTC sales will comprise 40% of all CPG e-commerce growth by the end of 2021. 

And because brands have full control over the channel, it can be a powerful strategy for driving trials and experimenting with new products — even for brands with a strong retail presence. 

Case in point: Beyond Meat and Pipcorn

Beyond Meat, the plant-based burger company with products now available in over 26,000 retailers, launched its DTC channel in 2020 amid tremendous growth. 

The new e-commerce site allows consumers to shop a portfolio of products that includes all-new bulk packs, mixed product bundles, limited-time offers, trial packs, and more.

And according to Adweek, Beyond Meat intends to use the DTC platform mainly as a “test kitchen” of sorts, gauging customer reactions to new meatless products before rolling them out to retailers. 

One reason this works so well is that brands have direct access to consumer data with DTC sales. You don’t have to depend on retailers as a middle-man. 

Another good example comes from Pipcorn, the heirloom snack company that established itself by handing out free samples at farmers’ markets and Whole Foods. 

The company was ready to launch a new line of crackers when the pandemic hit in March 2020. So they shifted to DTC sales and got creative, allowing customers who bought items online to send a free product to a friend.  

So if your brand already has a DTC site, you can feature new products using limited-time offers or bundles. Or you can add samples of new products to other orders, getting the new product directly into the hands of consumers.

4. Leveraging the c-store channel 

According to NACS, 83% of products purchased in convenience stores are consumed within an hour, making c-store the ideal channel for driving product trials. 

After all, consumers are much more likely to try a new 16oz bottle of soda as opposed to an entire 12 pack. It’s much less of a commitment. 

And there are unique tools CPG brands can use in the c-store channel to encourage consumers to try new products, including targeted mobile coupons and c-store loyalty programs. 

Mobile Coupons

CPG brands can send mobile offers to loyal c-store customers using retailer-owned channels like SMS, email, mobile apps, and social media. Offers are redeemable in store using a mobile device, no coupon clipping required. 

Take Nestle, for example. They needed an efficient solution to drive trial and awareness for their new water brand, Acqua Panna. So they partnered with us at Koupon to launch a targeted, one-month mobile offer campaign across our network of 45,000 c-store locations. 

We launched the campaign across retailer-owned digital channels like loyalty apps, SMS, and social media, allowing us to target a loyal and engaged c-store audience. The campaign exceeded the brand’s objectives with amazing results: 

  • Achieving 7.3% sales lift at participating retailers. 
  • Securing 1,000 stores of incremental distribution. 
  • Reaching over 1 million impressions, plus in-app and in-store signage. 

Customer Loyalty Programs

Loyalty engagement in the c-store channel is up 20% — thanks to many large c-store chains (like 7-Eleven and Yesway) upgrading their old punch-card systems to user-friendly mobile apps. 

And CPG brands can piggyback on this loyalty by partnering with c-stores to fund the rewards. For example, Red Bull, Coca-Cola, Nabisco and Frito Lay all work with Yesway to create promotional offers within the c-store chain’s new loyalty program. Offers include: 

  • Purchase any six 20-ounce Coke products and get a seventh for free.
  • Buy two Red Bull drinks to get 3 cents off per gallon. 
  • Buy any King Size Oreo, Nutter Butter or Chips Ahoy to get 3 cents off per gallon. 

So CPG brands can use mobile coupons and customer loyalty programs to drive trial in convenience stores — a channel already set up for success thanks to immediate consumption and small package sizes. 

5. Going back to in-store demos (with added safety precautions)

Image credit: Fizz

Now that we’re a year and a half into the pandemic, some retailers are bringing back in-store demos — with added safety precautions. 

For example, Costco began a phased return to sampling in June 2021, after a 14-month hiatus due to COVID restrictions. Safety protocols from the popular warehouse club include: 

  • Preparing all samples behind a plexiglass. 
  • Offering samples in smaller batches for better crowd control.  
  • Making distributions to shoppers one at a time.

And Stew Leonard’s, a grocery chain on the East Coast, began to phase in sampling around the same time—after installing plexiglass booths to keep masked and gloved employees at a safe distance from customers. (You can see the tweet from Stew below.)

Brands interested in getting back to in-store demos can also turn to dry sampling, which means handing out pre-packaged samples of your product for customers to try at home. This is a good strategy if you have the capacity to make small, sample-sized packages of your product. 

Marketing a CPG brand? See how Koupon helps CPG brands like yours drive trials

Powered by nearly 5 billion consumer transactions, Koupon provides brands in the CPG industry with unique insights that help measure and increase your revenue in the c-store channel. 

Here’s how Koupon gets results for CPG brands in c-stores:

  • We connect brands with retailers, using our network of over 45,000 c-store locations. 
  • We help brands reach and engage c-store shoppers with targeted digital promotions that boost store trips, increase basket size, and drive sales growth. 
  • We help brands secure new distribution across our network using digital promotion campaigns proven to drive product trials and awareness.
  • We help simplify execution. Our team takes care of everything from selling campaigns to retailers to execution, fulfillment, and everything in between.
  • We help brands make data-informed decisions by evaluating consumer patterns across products, stores, and channels. And we’ll help you use these insights to adjust and launch data-driven marketing strategies. 

The bottom line? We connect brands and retailers, helping everyone reach more customers and drive sales. Get in touch with our sales team to learn more!