Trader Joe’s, Costco and Sam’s Club Giving Free Samples Again: How They Compare and Where to Take Advantage

Mature woman taking sample in supermarket, mid section, close-up stock photo
Noel Hendrickson /

Pre-pandemic, a favorite family activity for many people was to wander Trader Joe’s, Costco, and Sam’s Club for free samples of snacks, bites of main dishes, and yummy beverages. If there was ever anything close to a free lunch, this was it.

For health and safety reasons, the stores stopped the practice in 2020. But now it’s coming back, albeit with a few modifications in today’s “new normal.”

Trader Joe’s is the most recent to bring back free samples. However, hot coffee will not return any time soon, reported CBS News. Plus, food samples will be largely single-serve and individually packaged for safety.

Costco brought back samples in 2021, but they were only offering dry, pre-packaged products like snack bars or cookies. They also offered packages of foods requiring cooking, such as pasta and jarred sauce. The downside, of course, is that you wouldn’t know if you liked the product until returning home to taste it.

As of April 2022, however, Costco has brought back fully cooked, single-bite samples, Victoria Buzz reported.

On June 1, 2021, Sam’s Club also brought back its Taste & Tips free sample program — and better than ever. In addition to free, fully cooked samples of entrees and snacks, Sam’s Club introduced the Member’s Mark Summer Eats Food Truck in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas last summer, according to a Sam’s Club press release.

Make Your Money Work for You

The company is also experimenting with roaming events, where workers bring samples directly to shoppers in check-out lines. It’s like a little cocktail party — minus the cocktails — at your local warehouse club.

Don’t Fall Victim to Impulse Buys

While consumers love free samples, the tactic also drives sales for stores.

It’s a win-win. Or is it? Free samples can actually cost you more money in the long run. When you get your saliva glands working with tasty treats while you’re shopping, you’re more likely to make impulse purchases, experts told CBS. Paco Underhill, the founder of behavioral research and consulting firm Envirosell, told CBS that sampling products also causes customers to slow down and spend more time in the store. This directly correlates to spending more money, according to a study reported by Time.

You’re also likely to splurge on full-size packages of the samples you tried. To keep that “free lunch” from becoming a budget-busting purchase, think about where the food will fit into your weekly meal plan. Also, set a time limit for your shopping trip. The more time you spend shopping, the more likely you are to make impulse buys.

You can also leave your credit and debit cards home and shop with only the cash you’ve budgeted for groceries. When you’ve reached the limit of your funds, you can’t dip into non-grocery funds to fill your cart.

Make Your Money Work for You

Or, plan a separate excursion where you aren’t shopping at all — but just enjoying the free treats these companies have to offer.

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