How to Sample Alcohol During the Pandemic

A product sampling in the age of Covid. | Photos courtesy of Adventure Wine.

Stated mildly, in-store sampling is difficult during the pandemic. The old way of “sips to lips” — handing out small pours to large groups of customers — poses an array of health risks in the age of Covid. This practice has become all but impossible in 2020.

Instead, many industry members have turned to digital alternatives. Zoom tastings and social media livestreams have become the norm. The large number of attendees these events attract affirms consistent consumer demand for education. But online classes can lack the efficiency and comfort level of in-store events.

Unfortunately, live samplings will be among the last practices to return to normal, even as the pandemic winds down. These events are too unsanitary when run the old way. In the meantime, some people have proposed safer versions of tastings that better reflect the health crisis.

The setup promotes social distancing while warning customers when they have stepped too close.

Robert Cavanaugh, president of the marketing group Adventure Wine, believes he has come up with a possible solution. His setup, pictured atop and to the right, incorporates multiple layers of security.

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“It started with retailers approaching us as early as mid-April, asking when we could get back into their stores,” Cavanaugh recalls. “That’s when we started researching ways to do it safely.”

His setup is a potential vision of the future for live tastings. Returning to normal will be a gradual process. Even during final stages of the pandemic, these events must include heightened safety.

“Obviously we knew that PPE and sanitization stations were important,” Cavanaugh says. “Same with Lucite barriers.”

A laser sensor lets customers know when they have breached the six-foot safe space between them and the sampler. The sensor flashes a red warning for anyone too close.

Education is critical with sampling. A rolling PowerPoint, or video stations, that customers can activate themselves provide this valuable learning.

The most novel part of Cavanaugh’s vision is a pizza peel that presents samples through a hole in the barrier. “It started off as a joke,” he explains. “We said, ‘Why don’t we put samples on a pizza paddle’, and the retailers thought it was a great idea.”

Adventure Wine has already rolled out these sampling stations in stores.

“Retailers are telling us that there is pent-up demand for education among their consumers,” Cavanaugh says. “And this setup can provide a level of comfort. Consumers have said that this makes them feel relieved.”

One drawback to this virus-protected tasting is the investment cost for Adventure Wine. But Cavanaugh believes this is worth it for him to bring back some form of in-store sampling and education.

“This virus is going to remain with us for another year, year and a half,” he says. “I wish we could go back to what we used to do, but we can’t, so we are going to have to adapt.”

Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Wholesaler. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz. Read his recent piece 5 Trends in Beer and Hard Seltzer in 2020-21.

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