CPGmatters: Sampling Gives Vita Coco Vital Competitive Edge
By Dale Buss
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary
of a current article from the monthly e-zine, CPGmatters.
runs one of the highest-cost product sampling operations in beverage retailing.
But the CEO and founder of Vita Coco isn’t about
to apologize for it. His Cadillac-level sampling strategy has helped build
a dominant share of the fast-growing U.S. market for coconut water.
The coconut water brand conducts mainly high energy guerrilla marketing including
dispatching a number of Vita Coco vans carrying crews of energetic “brand
educators” who blitz supermarkets with intense sampling and dispense samples
of the drinks at races, festivals and other events. About 200 health club trainers,
out-of-work actors, college students and others part-time are employed to hand
out samples, receiving $15 to $30 an hour. These twenty-somethings are a far
cry from the low key older women who staff most grocery store demos — and
they get far better results.
“The national average is that 20 to 30 percent of those sampled in a store
actually buy a product during the sampling period, but ours is closer to 60 percent,” said
Jeff Rubenstein, Vita Coco’s vice president of consumer marketing.
Vita Coco’s sampling strategy starts with recruiting and “auditioning” would
educators” at extravagant Brazilian-themed barbecues held in yoga studios,
sorority houses and other locations where the company is likely to find people
who have what Mr. Rubenstein calls a “life-loving attitude” and who
would enthusiastically “serve as the literal and figurative face of the
This is a “super-expensive way of recruiting,” he said. “What
we’re doing costs us more than $1,000 per [recruiting session], but it’s
worth it to find the right people. We build this immersive environment and
hope the right people will come.”
Eighty percent of the brand’s eventual recruits are bilingual, speaking
Spanish or maybe Portuguese as well as English, he said, and they’re supposed
to have a pre-existing Vita Coco consumption habit of “three to five” of
the drinks per week, Mr. Rubenstein said. They’re trained in the classroom,
then in the field, then in role-playing exercises where they deal with simulated
Once on the scene at special events or in the aisles, these representatives
press hard to amp up actual sales where and when they’re deployed and to secure
new long-term accounts from the retailers. They’re supposed to focus on “spending
a lot more time with a lot fewer people” at sampling locations, he said.
“What is fundamental to our program is the manner and their style and
our personalities,” Mr. Rubenstein said. “That’s the proprietary
part — how to build an authentic relationship with someone and educate
them” on Vita Coco.
“Sure, there are only so many ways you can skin a cat — it’s
still sampling,” he said. “But it’s about giving someone
a true, authentic brand experience.”
Discussion Questions: What do you think of Vita Coco’s “Cadillac level” sampling
strategy? Is this level of investment in sampling only appropriate for certain