Janet Urquhart: Energy bars fuel feeding frenzy
Nothing raises suspicions quite like a freebie.Then, when wary consumers realize something really is free, they want more than one.That, at least, is the most profound observation I managed to make after getting up at an unreasonable hour on a Sunday morning so I could help give away free energy bars at the base of Aspen Mountain. I was moonlighting in the daylight. Well, it was just barely daylight.The first order of business was hauling out a 1 ton, portable tent and erecting it in the plaza. (Don’t try this at home without an advanced degree in mechanical engineering). I mentally redesigned the tent but then ejected the blueprints from my brain after noticing the fine print in my contract any discoveries/inventions made in the performance of my assignment belong to my employer. In fact, you wouldn’t believe how many pieces of paper you have to sign or initial to get a gig as a part-time purveyor of sample bars in two tempting flavors.My copy of Sampling Standards explicitly instructed me to begin sampling when the lifts started running. So, I did.I must say, the product sold itself, so to speak. My partner and I distributed 800 bars in about three hours. They just didn’t go to 800 people. Once people realized they could just take one, they took two, or three, or four.You’d think they were starving. Some of them probably hadn’t eaten since that three-course meal at Pions the night before.Most people sheepishly announced just how many bars they were taking and offered an explanation: “I’ll take one for my husband” or “Can I take four for my family?” Everyone had an absent friend who would need sustenance. One skier secured four bars two apiece for herself and a friend, then sent the friend over to augment their supply.One guy returned a half-dozen times, as if we wouldn’t notice. He’d snagged 22 bars before the morning was over. The front pockets of his jacket were bulging. He probably needed an energy boost to carry them all.I thought about cutting him off, sort of like the Soup Nazi on “Seinfeld.” “No bars for you. Come back, one year!”Instead, I was friendly and engaging, just in case someone from HQ was watching. I offered my honest opinion to anyone who asked I preferred the caramel nut variety to the chocolate crunch knowing full well they were going to take one of each anyway.I memorized the pertinent nutritional facts about the bar that each delivers 40 percent of its calories from carbs, 30 percent from protein and 30 percent from dietary fat (as opposed to nondietary fat?). I resisted suggesting the 40-30-30 thing would result in hip-thigh-calf measurements in that order.I could count on one hand the few who were interested in the bars’ ingredients, such was the frenzy to snag a couple of them. They’re free. Who cares what’s in them?Certainly not me. I had at least six of them in my pocket before the morning was over.[Janet Urquhart may set up a hot chocolate stand in the plaza this weekend. A buck a cup. Her e-mail address is email@example.com]
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