Any top marketing executive will tell you that if his or her company could get a consumer to try their product just once — that consumer would be hooked on their product and repeat purchases would be all but guaranteed. This has been repeated to me time and time again over the years, but getting a consumer to try a retail product for the first time is much easier said than done.

Shoppers can easily be intimidated by the sheer number and variety of products in any supermarket. Traditional supermarkets offering a full line of groceries, meat and produce with at least $2 million in annual sales typically carry anywhere from 15,000 to 60,000 SKUs (depending on the size of the store), according to the Food Marketing Institute. Meat and deli cases can easily confound shoppers with their many brands and products on display. And most families are creatures of habit and tend to buy the same brands and types of meat and poultry products just about every time they shop.

My family shops at three supermarkets: one is a one-store independent, another is part of a small, three-store, family owned chain and the last is part of a huge national chain. All feature full-service meat counters and delis carrying everything from value-added meat and poultry products to prepared salads. Plus, they also have self-serve meat counters.

If I were in charge of the meat and or deli products departments at a supermarket, I would do whatever possible to encourage shoppers to try different items. One way to do this is through sampling, but rarely do any of these three stores offer samples of new or “on sale” meat or poultry products. And when they do, often the people manning the tables with small slices of one product are not very engaging or knowledgeable about what they’re serving. This is a lost opportunity.

Sure, it’s impossible to have meat and poultry product sampling programs on a daily or even a weekly basis, but more needs to be done at the point-of-sale to encourage shoppers to try “something new”. By the time my wife and I reach the meat and deli cases, which is usually the last stop at the store, we would welcome suggestions or offers to try something new.

There is another tactic that could induce folks to buy something new. Several decades ago I lived in a community that had a traditional butcher shop with a very engaging owner. He would always encourage his customers to try new things.

“Have you ever tried this?” he’d ask me as he handed me a slice of meat or poultry product in mid-conversation about something else. On more than one occasion, I’d pick up a half-lb. or lb. of what I sampled because I liked it, it was something different and I thought my family would like it, too. Had he not offered me this sample, I would have never thought to have purchased it. Supermarket meat counter staffers should slice up some of their new products in advance and try this tactic once in a while. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

More needs to be done at the supermarket level to educate those providing samples. Folks manning sampling tables must also be good in working with people. If a customer asks a question and the person working the sampling table doesn’t have the answer, he or she should contact the processor or supermarket and get back to the customer with an answer. How often does that happen? Seldom, if ever.

Ideally, the processors themselves should produce and conduct in-store sampling programs at various supermarkets. But if this is impossible and is the responsibility of the supermarket, the supermarkets should supply their customers with relevant product information plus a phone number and web site address they can use if they’d like to learn more about the product they sampled. Money-off coupons at the POS for this product would also be a good bit of ammunition to help nudge a potential sale forward.

People working sample tables will get only one chance to get a consumer to try something new. The more positive of an experience this is for the shopper, the more likely there will be a first-time sale.