One of the pre-COVID rituals I’ve missed most is my weekly stroll through the grocery store to casually taste all the free samples I can find. To be able to try new snacks, nibble on fancy cheeses, and sometimes even sip on a taster of wine while buying my staples for the week always made me more likely to set foot in a grocery store in the first place. For obvious reasons, the pandemic stopped this practice dead in its tracks, as stores went to great lengths to cut down on the spreading of germs. But now several stores are starting to bring this practice back, changing the way they do so to adapt to the current landscape.
At many stores The Takeout reached out to, the current state of free samples relied on whether or not mask mandates were in place in specific states and cities. Now that those mandates have been dropped in most locations, stores are reintegrating samples back into the shopping experience.
But even before that, some brands worked to keep samples as part of the new way we grocery shop. For example, Whole Foods tells The Takeout that when grocery delivery and pickup was rolled out in its stores in 2020, the chain started including samples in those packages.
“These were meant to surprise and delight our customers and provide something they might not have thought to try—usually seasonally relevant products at key moments throughout the year,” a representative for Whole Foods said.
Trader Joe’s is taking a similar approach to choosing the kinds of products that will be available for sampling going forward.
“We want to focus a little more on new products,” said Nakia Rohde, Trader Joe’s public relations manager. “Things not necessarily on your shopping list, but things we’re excited to share. Customers can stop by their neighborhood store and talk to the Crew to find out what’s new.”
At Whole Foods, there are three different kinds of sampling that customers can expect to see in stores:
- Staffed sampling, where a worker will offer samples in single-use cups for shoppers to take and eat, typically used for beverages, chips, dips, and meat
- Passive sampling, which is used for things like cheese and produce, allowing customers to use a set of tongs for self-serve
- Packaged, in-store sampling, typically used for beauty or body care products, which are given out as sealed, single-serving packages
The Albertsons Company also confirmed that its family of stores will be periodically offering sampling stations, so keep an eye out at Albertsons, Safeway, Acme, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s, Tom Thumb, Pavilions, Vons, and United Supermarkets.
Both Wegmans and Costco declined to comment about the status of their free samples, so you’ll just have to keep an eye on those for yourself (and you know we’ll be on the lookout, too). But even if some stores haven’t yet brought samples back, most of us are now thankfully able to add free snacks back into our grocery shopping routine, no matter where we live.