Virtual trainings are the new sampling programs for grocery brands in 2021

How Prosciutto di Parma was able to pivot from in-store to online and maintain consumer engagement.


Almost a year into the ‘new normal’, brands are realizing it is not enough to wait for business to return to routine – they must adapt to remain relevant and stay close to customers. This is truer than ever in the grocery space where retail brands have had to reinvent the in-store experience to preserve customer loyalty.

Previous strategies to engage, like in-store samplings and food demos, were incredibly effective at driving sales and creating greater brand affinity. In fact, according to a recent survey, one-fifth of Canadian shoppers, particularly in the Gen-Z demographic, look to in-store experiences to drive them to a physical location over online. In addition, some brands have reported immense financial and behavioural benefits courtesy of in-store sampling programs with as much as a 2,000% increase in sales and the ability to influence shoppers to buy products they would never normally purchase. One only needs to look at retail giant, Costco to see the success of in-store sampling first-hand.

With an important tactic off the table for many food brands for the foreseeable future, how can they remain close to their customers, preserve loyalty, and provide the educational piece that is often critical for conversion?

Prosciutto di Parma, the authentic PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) ham from Italy, is setting new standards in customer education and engagement during the pandemic. Pivoting from in-store demos and samplings to online training sessions with grocery and deli staff have been a critical tool in maintaining awareness and driving sales of this important foreign brand in Canada.

“It has always been our priority to educate Canadian consumers on the Parma difference and help them distinguish an authentic, premium Italian product from the rest,” says Stefano Fanti, Director of the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma in Italy. “Pre-pandemic, we relied heavily on in-store sampling programs and demos to provide that face-to-face connection with our customers and relay important information about the brand, as well as offer them the opportunity to taste the difference. Now, we are creating ambassadors at the store level that can tell the Parma story on our behalf.”

To bring this concept to life, Prosciutto di Parma engaged key retailers where their products are sold to participate in virtual training sessions with their deli staff. The goal was to arm front-line salespeople with key messages on the brand so that they could communicate to customers with confidence and offer greater product expertise. They have also been focusing on educating chefs, independent retailers, and distributors and producers of the product so that, at every touchpoint, and at the absence of in-store representation, messaging remains consistent for the consumer.

Chef Roberto Fracchioni, has been working as an ambassador for Prosciutto di Parma in Canada for the past two years, leading seminars, running demos, and speaking on behalf of the brand to consumers and media. He understands the importance of customer interaction and education at all levels, from in-store to in-restaurant and beyond, and has been helping Prosciutto di Parma keep those engagement points active during the pandemic.

“Making the shift from in-store to online may have felt unnatural at first, but we quickly found our stride,” says Fracchioni. “While we miss the in-person interactions with customers, it’s been exciting to work with deli staff and other chefs. They truly have a passion for food and want to be able to communicate with consumers on a deeper, more informative level.”

Like many food brands, global sales of Prosciutto di Parma were down significantly in 2020, however there is light at the end of the tunnel. Sales of pre-packaged Prosciutto di Parma in Canada and around the world is on the rise, an increase that Fanti attributes to consistent messaging and in-store education.

“We hope that what we’re doing locally inspires other food brands to pivot their marketing strategies and look for new and unique ways to continue to engage,” says Fanti. “We do not know what the future holds or for how long we will remain in this reality. All we can do is adapt and work hard to preserve these authentic and traditional brands in Canada so that consumers may enjoy them for years to come.”

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