Photography courtesy Uptaste
How did you come to co-found Uptaste?
I met my best friend and now business partner Maxime Paulhus Gosselin (Max) on the basketball court back in 2003. We both went away to school in the States – he went to Davidson College and I went to the University of Buffalo – and we stayed in touch. In 2012, Maxime was running his parent’s import/export business and launched a cheese called Old Amsterdam in Canada. Every weekend he would go into grocery stores and do in-person sampling and grew his demo team to 15. At night, we would often work together on our businesses – I was running my own digital agency at the time – and one night he said there must be a better way to serve consumers and retailers. Finding, training and paying staff were pain points even back then… He actually drew on a napkin a machine that would cut up cheese and hand it to consumers. I said, ‘This is a fantastic idea but you’re busy and I’m busy; it’s not the right time [to start a new business].’
Fast forward to 2021… We had decided we would go into business together. On a trip to Costa Rica, we threw a hundred ideas at the wall and nothing really fired us up. One day, Maxime just looked at me and said, ‘What about in-store samples?’ It was COVID, so sampling went from a booming industry to zero overnight. But everyone still understood that sampling works. So, it was a perfect time to disrupt it and we knew from research that sampling drives loyalty and sales.
We came back from Costa Rica and built the first Uptaste machine in Max’s father’s garage. After a few iterations and observing consumer interactions with the machines in stores, we developed our latest version. Last year alone, we had more than 60,000 samples taken from our machines and this year we’re on pace to do well over 600,000 samples.
READ: Higher tech in the grocery store
How does Uptaste compare to a traditional sampling program?
In a traditional tasting, you might have a great brand ambassador or a not-so-great brand ambassador. From a consistency standpoint, [with Uptaste], a video plays on loop so the consumer gets the same message delivered to them every time. And a lot of feedback we’ve received is that it's hard to find good staff and keep them. Chances are the person you’re hiring to promote your product doesn’t care about your product, doesn’t know about your product, and might not even like your product. So, what they share with the consumer might be the wrong information or it might be something you don’t want them to share.
The product that comes out of the machine in the exact same every time: the sizing, the taste and the temperature you want your product to be tasted at. In addition, we’re able to offer samples 24/7 or whenever stores are open. So, brands can reach consumers who grocery shop at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday, for example, whereas typically that consumer would not see a sample in store. Traditionally, you might only have a brand ambassador on Friday evenings, or the 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. window on Saturdays and Sundays.
READ: Negative in-store experiences could cost food, retail brands
What’s your response to those who might think automated sampling is just one more area of our lives where we’re losing the human touch?
Our target market is innovators and there’s not an age for innovators. You can be an innovator at eight years old or 90 – it’s really the mindset of a person who is looking for something new and willing to try something new.