Fees

could vary between $2,700 and $5,600, the stores said.

Sample Central, the Sao Paulo-based franchise of

Australia’s Sample Lab, was launched in June. That should

fuel expansion across Sao Paulo, Brazil’s wealthiest city, and

to five other major cities by 2015, said General Manager Joao

Pedro Borges. Other goods, such as food and

cosmetics, may be taken home but are limited to one sample per

person.

With customers packing the store, located in Sao Paulo’s

hipster district of Vila Madalena, the owners decided to open

as many as six branches in other cities. The first will open in

the southern city of Curitiba at the end of July, said Luiz

Gaeta, one of Clube’s two partners.. More than 25,000

customers have signed up to date — or about 25 percent above

initial estimates.

To guard against abuse, expensive goods such as electronics

must be tested in the store. To date, it has more than 14,000

customers, who have to pay an annual fee of 50 reais ($28) to

register.

For companies, free sample stores offer a low-cost research

tool for their launches, a technique known as “tryvertising.”

“The investment for a company involves way less money than

in a traditional market survey,” Gaeta noted.

“The atmosphere in the store as well as the differences

with more traditional retail stores are appealing to the

shopper,” Borges said.

Shoppers in financial hub Sao Paulo are flocking to stores

stocked with free samples as a way to test customer tastes and

build market share in Latin America’s biggest economy, which

expanded at an annualized 9 percent rate in the first quarter.

SAO PAULO, July 9 Retailers in Brazil have hit

on a popular way to attract the country’s huge army of

consumers — free stuff.

“Acceptance from the industry as a whole went beyond our

initial expectations, which tells us that this could soon

become a trend,” Gaeta told Reuters in an interview.

Sample Central’s store, located in Sao Paulo’s upscale

neighborhood of Jardins, shocks bypassers with its bright

yellow facade. Registered customers pay an annual fee of 15

reais to join Sample Central.

“Beyond their use as a powerful consumer research tool in a

highly competitive market, these stores are pretty much like a

laboratory for us,” said Lucia Rolla, who oversees conglomerate

Grupo Bertin’s beauty care and personal hygiene brands.

Shoppers, bankrolled by record job creation and resilient

incomes, are testing cosmetics, foods and even mobile phones in

the free sample stores where products are marketed ahead of

their release in major retailers.

Unilever, food-maker Brasil Foods (BRFS3.SA), sugar

processor Cosan (CSAN3.SA) and beermaker AmBev AMBV4.SA are

betting on the stores as a way to create ties with a new wave

of consumers, better understand their tastes, and prelaunch or

redesign their products.

For consumers, joining a store formally entitles them to

take home a number of different products each month. “For us it’s easier to understand how our launch is doing,”

said Patricia Cantaluzzi, marketing head for Sadia, which

became Brasil Foods in a merger last year that is still

awaiting government approval.

(Writing by Guillermo Parra-Bernal; Editing by Stuart

Grudgings and Dave Zimmerman)

* Seen expanding outside consumer hub Sao Paulo

* Free sample stores open in Brazil to lure consumers

Clube Amostra Gratis (Free Sample Club), which was launched

in May in Sao Paulo, groups more than 200 different products

and about 130 companies. Brasil Foods marketing staff noticed a

bigger-than-expected increase in sales of some cold-cut brand

products after placing them in Sample Central shelves.

By Vivian Pereira

Sample Central expects the format to succeed in Brazil, as

it did in Japan, the United States and Australia. Curiosity mounts when security staff tell

visitors that they are only allowed to come into the store if a

visit is previously booked online.

* Stores seen helping promote consumer goods brands

As shoppers register online and visit the store, initial

curiosity turns into testing, and testing into customer

feedback. They have

to fill out online surveys about the products they test and

that entitles them to take part in raffles and earn “extra

points” toward additional benefits.

Brazil’s consumers played the biggest role in pulling the

economy out of its first recession in 17 years last year, and

firms like Unilever (ULVR.L) — the world’s biggest maker of

non-discretionary household goods — that rode out the crisis

are now ready to capitalize on the better times.

“TRYVERTISING”

Companies interested in showing their products hire shelf

space for two weeks and pay for access to survey results