How Advantage Solutions helped Bitchin’ Sauce become a household brand

kellye whitney

It’s not easy to build a new brand. Competition for shelf space is fierce, consumer preferences are fickle and many hesitate to make a purchase when packaging sizes veer toward bulk status.

Enter demonstration sampling and the power of the “roadshow,” an experiential marketing event that makes it easy for consumers to try before they buy. Sampling offers consumers a low-risk way to find a new favorite, and in these settings, the product speaks for itself.

Take the case of runaway success Bitchin’ Sauce, which makes a range of flavorful nut-based dips with a clean ingredient panel. Its products are gluten-free, vegan, kosher and verified non-GMO. Most importantly, consumers love the taste.

Carlsbad, Calif.-based Bitchin’ Sauce is now among the fastest-growing women-owned or -led companies in the U.S. Its dips and sauces can be found in 12,000 retailers and restaurants across the U.S., and the brand is planning to expand into Canada and Mexico in the months ahead.

The road to the brand’s global expansion began with a sample. In the early 2000s, married founders Starr and Luke “L.A.” Edwards sold their dips at farmers’ markets in and around San Diego, clearing less than $15,000 in annual revenue.

Then a Costco buyer showed up.

Plant-based dips weren’t exactly mainstream at the time. They were more likely to be found in a farmers’ market than a grocery or club store. Bitchin’ Sauce was different — its ingredients, flavor profiles, almost everything.

Eventually, the Costco buyer introduced Bitchin’ Sauce to Club Demonstration Services, or CDS, the Advantage Solutions unit that provides product sampling services for Costco warehouses globally.

That was the brand’s big break.

CDS launched Bitchin’ Sauce’s first roadshow in October 2015 at the Carmel Valley Costco in San Diego. That year, the brand was featured in 23 events.

By 2019, CDS held 4,766 Bitchin’ Sauce demonstrations. Sales rose from $14,500 to $5.8 million. The number of units sold leapt to more than 622,000, from less than 2,000 in its first year.  

“Sampling has always been a key ingredient for Bitchin’ Sauce,” says L.A. Edwards, who serves as founder and vice chairman of Bitchin’ Sauce. “Once people taste it, they love it, and members aren’t shy about tasting samples at Costco. During our first roadshows, Starr and I took turns watching our two small kids, stocking the cooler and monitoring the booth. So, to see the program now operating nationwide with Advantage Solutions and CDS support is unbelievably Bitchin’.”

When it comes to strategically building a new food brand, club retailer demos offer brands high visibility in a crowded marketplace, and Bitchin’ Sauce’s runaway success won the brand a spot in Costco’s in-line/everyday assortment. That is the power of sampling, says Amy Lang, president of CDS.

“Coupons, price drops and marketing campaigns can drive awareness and interest, but there is magic in the human desire to experience a product through touch, taste and talking to someone about how it can enhance their life,” Lang says. “That is where real brand and product affiliation comes alive.”

Its initial success sampling with CDS at Costco helped Bitchin’ Sauce expand its distribution to more than 12,000 retailers and restaurants nationwide, effectively turning a farmers’ market brand into a national — soon-to-be-global — phenomenon.

Consider the roadshows at Costco. They usually run for consecutive days from Thursday through Sunday, and it’s an open-to-close event. As soon as a location opens its doors, samples are available for members until close. Samples usually offer a variety of items new at the club, and there may be two or three of the same item in different flavors. Plus, team members sharing samples know the ingredients and to whom it will appeal.

The primary goal for the event is to test-drive new products with club members to determine which may emerge as the next best-seller. That gives buyers assurance that those items will be successful in a broader launch. For product manufacturers, getting featured in a demo offers unparalleled brand exposure to consumers who are in the market to try and buy.

“Sampling is all about bringing in excitement for new items,” says Maria M. Manzano, senior director of sales for Canada and Mexico at Advantage Solutions. “It’s a different shopping experience for consumers — almost like a treasure hunt at the floor level.”

Demonstrations and sampling are effective because they offer a personalized, cost-effective way for consumers to ensure they like a product before making a purchase. As a retail marketing strategy, that’s important for club retailers because it’s not a regular supermarket offering neatly packaged items in smaller sizes. Consumers at club retailers often have to purchase in bulk.

According to a 2023 Halverson Group Survey, some 94% of Costco members say they prefer to sample before making a purchase. Demos offer a small piece of a bigger-ticket item — for free.

Sampling also gives brands an opportunity to interact more closely with consumers. CDS’s experienced employees directly interact with hundreds or even thousands of consumers each day, and they’re experts in pitching, educating and selling.

Product demonstrations represent “a premium opportunity to drive brand awareness and educate people on the versatility, attributes and benefits of a new product,” Manzano says.

Costco’s sampling program also is key to the warehouse chain’s overall consumer experience. Nearly half of respondents in the member survey said food samples are very important to their overall shopping experience. But the retail marketing benefits associated with demos aren’t limited to edible products. Manzano said they “can apply to everything in our world, not just food or club retailers. We do demos on coffee machines, vacuums, blenders, hair dryers, all kinds of beauty products. The sky’s the limit.” 

It goes to show that you never know — a sample you encounter in your next shopping trip could turn into the next Bitchin’ Sauce. And it’s in part thanks to the power of product demonstrations conducted by companies like CDS and Advantage Solutions.

“At CDS, our team gets excited about every product they get to demonstrate,” says Lang. “They love seeing shoppers engage with product and discover something new to enhance their lives.”