Today was my first gig demo-ing an all-natural gluten-free granola made by a woman in Michigan, Jessica, who's gotten her product into a number of Illinois Whole Foods. Basically, I stand at a table and hand out free samples in a transparent attempt to get people to buy the product. I do this to make extra money, and in a way that does not involve sitting at a desk or in any way using Microsoft Office.
So I arrived today with the materials that Jessica had sent me. She is incredibly thorough and organized, having emailed me clear instructions and photos on how to set up the table, and sent me a large tub containing all the samples and paraphernalia I'd need. We'd had a one-hour phone training where we went over ingredients, etiquette, everything. I was ready.
When i arrived I was shown where to set up by a Whole Foods staff member. My table was to be between the chilled juice case to my back and the dairy case on the other side of the aisle. Jessica, ever thorough, had advised me to wear a sweater, and I was glad I'd followed her advice. I put my bandanna (regulations - hair covered when serving food), donned my Jessica's apron, latex gloves, and set up. I laid out the packages and spooned samples into small paper cups like the cups they put pills into at the hospital.
A word here about granola. I have never been a huge fan. I grew up with Nature Valley bars, which were basically oats and sugar. Like cardboard dipped in syrup. If that granola is comparable to a Ford, Jessica's granola is a rocket ship. Oats, honey, maple syrup, coconut, flax seed, cinnamon, almonds, Michigan dried cherries, chocolate chips...it's the most delicious granola I've ever had, and the hardest thing has been to have a huge tub of it in my house and not eat it all.
As people passed (and there was a lot of traffic, what with it being the 11-3 slot at Whole Foods on a Saturday), I'd invite people to try a snack, grab a pick-me-up, anything that didn't sound like, "Please, try my product." I was friendly but not overbearing, witty ("Only in Whole Foods would you be offered granola shots") and proved conversational on a number of subjects. I discussed why an oat-based product wasn't by nature gluten-free (oats grown near gluten-containing grains can become contaminated, and equipment used to process gluten-containing grains are often also used on oats, introducing gluten to a naturally gluten-free grain.) I answered questions about nuts and dairy. I suggested ways to serve it, and assured kids that they could buy it with their allowance if their parents would not.
I watched people idly take a sample, start to walk away, and then pop some granola into their mouth. I saw them stop, then turn with a look of amazement on their faces.
"This is GOOD!" they'd say.
And people are hilarious. There are those who avoid eye contact, uncomfortable; those who sheepishly try one, and then ask permission to try another flavor, and who act like it's Christmas when I tell them they can try as much as they like.
Then there are the Mooches. Now, when I was unemployed, I'd arrange for my shopping to take place at about this time in order to avail myself of all the free samples on display at the local Whole Foods. I called it "Whole Foods Tapas" and could usually put together a good lunch out of free apple slices, cheese cubes, pineapple on toothpicks, snack crackers, kettle chips, cake chunks, and acai juice. But I always took a sample, not ten, and I was shopping at the time.
I was impressed by how shamelessly some people would ask the price of the granola, and upon being told (it's a little pricey because of the certified gluten-free oats and the top-shelf ingredients), instead of taking a bag to buy, would just take several cups of samples, sometimes returning for more when those had been consumed. Our protocol is to always be friendly, and never deny someone. Still, the chubby 17-ish girl who kept swooping by and grabbing a sample started to get tiresome after the fourth pass, pretending to be on her cell phone in an effort to avoid having to look at me. I'd made up my mind that the next time I saw her I'd put on a big smile and say loudly, "Boy you really like this huh? You're not full YET?" But she didn't come back.
I chatted with the store staff, who came by for samples, word getting out that the granola was crazy good. Louie told me about the almond tree outside the house in Puerto Rico that his sister now lived in and was fixing up.
After three hours, my hands were very cold, and the generic reggae that had been pumped in an endless loop into the store had become a form of mental torture.
"Louie," I called to him as he passed by with a labeler. "how much would it cost to bribe you into getting some metal onto that system?"
"One day it was all jazz," Louie said. "All like, 'tweet' and 'boop.' I had a huge headache at the end of the day."
"All I know is I could really use some 'Highway to Hell' right now," I shivered.
At some point, the music changed, heralded by the first bars of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" thumping through the speakers.
"THANK GOD!" I exclaimed involuntarily, startling the people looking at organic cage-free eggs, butter, and butter substitutes.
My samples persuaded people to buy 17 bags of granola. I'm paid hourly, not on commission, so the pride I took was purely competitive. Next Sunday, I shall return.