Small design thoughts from an afternoon selling sausage

Posted on Feb 6, 2012 in consumer insights, user research

My friend who’s a food-broker had a worker fall through, so I got to be your favorite girl at the grocery store: the sample girl! Here’s some thoughts I had after a day in aisle 7.

Setting the table

The setup was basic: the chicken sausage was displayed slices and served on two plates (two different flavors) on a card table in the frozen foods aisle. The sausage pieces were speared with toothpicks and evenly spaced out on the plate for easy access. I displayed the packaged product beside the plate so that users could clearly see what they were tasting. The funny thing was that even though I had two different products differentiated by different colored toothpicks and plates, many people still didn’t realize there were two different flavors to choose from.


The method was a simple question-after-use format. A person would ask me what the product was, they would taste one or both and then I would ask them what they thought. If they tried both, I asked them which they preferred. I made notes about taste preferences, noted repeating adjectives and kept track of the number of packages that were sold from my table and the frozen case beside me.

Design is everywhere!

Sitting in the frozen meat section all day just wouldn’t be bearable without spicing it up with some design process: prototype, user testing, user feedback, iteration, evaluation…

Problem: the sausage cooled off (and although

Feedback #1: users didn’t complain

Feedback #2: Mr. Meat Manager was convinced that I would sell more sausages if they were kept hot.

Iteration: I moved the electric skillet to my table and reduced the quantity of samples per plate.

Impact: results were indeterminable since I had higher traffic in the morning than the afternoon. The first half of the day my yogaware-clad yuppies were focused and prone to quick decision-making. Towards the late afternoon the slacker-yuppies made their laps around the store a number of times, lingered in the aisles and avoided the samples until their 2nd pass by my table.

‘Consumer Insights’

Yoga-yuppies weren’t overly price sensitive. Neither did they care much about the nutrition of the products: Only 3 people checked the packaged for an ingredient list. Most shoppers used grocery lists on…PAPER (only 1 tablet, 1 smart phone, 1 cook book!). Girls shopped with their boyfriends/ husbands, with roommates or with a cell phone glued to their ear. A few people had bought the product (either earlier that day 0r earlier that month) and had yet to try it. If I made eye contact with people they were 95% more likely to sample the product. If they sampled the product, they were 50% more likely to buy the product (ok, that is a complete guess). One guy told me his whole life story about growing up on the farm down the street from the Johnsonville family!

Overall, it was a fun day in the life of a demo-girl. I started in sales (Nordstrom) and I enjoyed having the excuse to people-watch and observe the latest grocery store fashions. I guess you can take the girl out of the design studio but not the design studio out of the girl.