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Sep 20, 2002
Case Study

How to Sell Soup Online with Free Samples

SUMMARY: Web marketer Leslie Eiser's co-workers used to make fun of her
efforts. "Leslie's Yard Sale," they called the f*ree sample offers
she plugged on soup manufacturer E.D. Food's site.

Then they learned her "little" campaign was directly responsible
for $750,000 in direct-to-consumer sales. Guess who's smiling now?
This is a fun Case Study for any marketer who believed in the Web
when others around them did not. Plus, if you ever wondered if it
was possible to sell soup online, well read on.
by Contributing Editor Mark Brownlow

(Note: Amounts cited below are in US Dollars.)


You will probably find soup on everyone's top 10 list of
things you definitely do not want to be selling on a website.
Sandwiched somewhere between sacks of pet food and Boeing 747s.

Quebec-based E.D.Foods manufactures private label soups, sauces
and seasonings for various food service markets. However, their
website sells the same products direct to consumers.

The problem for Leslie Eiser, website manager and marketer in
one, is how to persuade people to put down good money and wait
several days for items they can buy in any neighborhood grocery

Eiser sums it up so: "You cannot get soup of the quality that I'm
going to send you at the price I'm going to charge you for it.
Once you try my soup, you're going to love it. But I need you to
try my soup."

Eiser's task was to get website visitors to make that first leap
of faith. A task made more difficult by her colleagues' initial
skepticism. Unconvinced of the potential of online sales, they
gave her just $500 to set up and market the website.


Eiser knew the only way to get people to try the soup
was to give it away.

Her first free offer was the smallest soup pack the factory made
at the time, but still weighing in at over 1 lb. and enough for
17-23 servings. [The website now offers a selection of free
samples, with more family-sized portions.]

Eiser was aware, though, of the dangers of offering anything
f*ree online. "Giving away free anything is very problematic,
because everybody and his uncle wants one. I had a friend who put
up a similar free sample offer and she got about 1200 requests
within 2 hours."

With the first giant sampler costing upwards of $7.50 just to
produce, she decided to charge a token shipping and handling fee
of $3.50 (more for overseas visitors), hoping this would filter
out the freeloaders who would never try or order her products.

Even this small financial outlay would also commit the "buyer" to
the product. When the free sample arrived, it really would
get used (cooked and eaten) and not discarded in the corner with
other freebies.

Remember, getting people to actually try the soup was key.

After choosing their free sample, a visitor also has to scroll
through a list of top offers and products on the same order page
before reaching the 'put in shopping cart' button. "I try and
make sure I have options available for them that are really hard
not to take."

If a customer orders something else, there is no shipping and
handling fee for the free sample. There is a double incentive
to buy something, rather than just take the f*reebie.

Eiser embedded the free offer in a simple, fun, yet superficially
"amateur" website. This was partly a budget issue, but more a
deliberate attempt to appeal to the target audience; the majority
of customers are women aged 25-70, many using AOL and TV-based
web services.

"A simple site with no Java, no fancy CGI scripts, no slick
interface, no frames is going to be more user friendly for the
kind of people who buy soup on the Internet. It just says 'these
are the products we have and this is why I think they're fun and
worth looking at.'" says Eiser.

At the site, visitors are also invited to sign-up for a monthly
newsletter, which is full of jokes, recipes, fun reader tales,
website reviews and stories, all interwoven with product
testimonials and one or two promotions.

The three elements of free offer, website and newsletter are
backed up by Eiser's personal guarantee on all products and her
own brand of outrageous customer service.

She deals with all customer correspondence personally, her
philosophy being "...if something isn't quite right, I am going
to make sure that customer is happy about it. Whatever I have to
do, that's what's going to happen. I want an email back going

Satisfied with the offer and total package, she spread the word
to every freebie website she could find. [She also advertises in
select "homely" double opt-in newsletters, does a little PPC, and
has an affiliate program operated through]


In the last two years, Eiser's sent out over 30,000
free samples to first-time "buyers." Of those, a full 60% also
ordered paid products with their free sample, and most of these
became repeat customers. Of the 40% who just took the free
sample, up to a quarter have already returned for paid products.

The value of concurrent and future sales has more than justified
the cost of the samples. The free sample promotion helped the
website take $500,000 in orders last year, and the 2002 figure
should rise to $750,000. The site has been profitable from its

Visitor numbers average around 1,500 a day, with conversion rates
from visitor to paying customer (not including free sample-only
customers) of 6-7%, though Eiser admits that the figures may be
skewed by many repeat buyers.

Although Eiser attributes much of the website's success to the
free offer, she still believes it is the basics of an excellent
product and great customer service that makes the real

"Many people visit because they've tasted the soup at a friend's
or it's been recommended to them. Then they see they can get a
free sample, too." That is the clincher.

Once Eiser's success became apparent, the company moved fast to
give her its full support. "Originally the rest of the company
were referring to it as Leslie's Yard Sale. They've stopped doing

She has plans to expand the products on offer to include more
gourmet items. Soups and sauces make up 90% of sales, but the 10%
accounted for by maple syrup, European cookies, herbal teas and
similar is set to rise.

Ironically, the consumer-oriented website has proved a successful
generator of B2B leads, with marketing groups and others
unfamiliar with manufacturing relieved to talk to a company with
a human face. "And we're finally getting restaurants to order
online, too." says Eiser.

E.D.Foods -
See Also:

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