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How Many Free Samples Is Too Many?

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May 23, 2013

A court case in Minnesota may finally settle the age old dispute: How many free samples is too many? Of course, we can settle the debate right here among us Eaters. Here are the facts...

- On April 24, 2010, 68-year-old former laboratory machinist Erwin Lingitz walked into a Cub Foods in White Bear Township, MN and took a lot of free samples. He left the store with 0.61 pounds of summer sausage and 0.85 pounds of beef stick and was arrested for shoplifting.

- Mr. Lingitz says store employees encouraged him to take more samples and bring some home to his wife. The store says he was a serial free sample abuser who had been warned in the past.

- Lingitz is now suing Supervalu, claiming that his civil rights were violated when he was arrested. A spokesman for Supervalu said Lingitz "violated societal norms and common customer understanding regarding free sample practices" by taking more than customers are expected to.

It seems like he may have gotten a little carried away, although that doesn't mean he deserved to get roughed up, as he allegedly was.

But what exactly are "societal norms and common customer understanding regarding free sample practices?"

I discussed this question recently with A Martinez of Southern California Public Radio's Take Two. Listen to the conversation above.

I think in general, the limit is two samples. The store wants you to take a sample, in the hope that you'll buy the product. So if the first taste is a good one, you need a second one to confirm your findings before you can be expected to buy it.

If it's especially delicious and there's still enough for others, a third taste is acceptable.

In the case of ice cream it's a little different, because each sample is a taste of a different flavor. In that case the max is four or five, with the understanding that you should also consider how busy the store is before pushing the limits.

What's your take on this pressing issue? How many free samples is too many?

Photo: Flickr CC / Keith Williamson

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