How Sampling Taught Us What College Kids Love

Parents of college students or soon-to-be college students: I have a secret to tell you.

When your kid goes away to college, you’ll want to stay connected with them; you’ll wonder how they’re doing; you’ll be concerned about their well-being. But that’s obvious. That’s not the secret.

You will send them maybe one care care package per year, if they are lucky. That is what our primary research yielded at Arteria, when evaluating the college-age consumer market.

Inside of that one care package you maybe send, you will include something they forgot at home when they left, you will include something they love that is unique… maybe grandma’s cookies or a little handwritten note. Maybe both.

And you will try to give them a few things you picked up at the store. Things you think they will appreciate, want, and need in their new environment away from home for a full semester.

Now, here comes the secret advice. I’ll preface with the examples why I’m confident.

Arteria has placed relevant products in care packages going to college students, and gathered feedback from the college kids who received them, AND the parents who sent them. This helps us understand what the audience loves or what they feel kinda “meh” about.

Our research has been very interesting. For instance, sometimes parents are completely wrong about what their college kids will love. Like the time we sent several versatile, reusable plastic sporks to our college students. The parents, never actually having experienced these sporks themselves, rated them horribly—they hated this item. However, the students who received them instantly recognized the utility of a durable, go-anywhere utensil in their new adaptive life.

Arteria’s 360° Sampling process showed students loved the sporks by 20% points more than their parents. The experience with the product matters!

There was also the oatmeal-based beverage we delivered. Parents, again, rated it poorly. But, upon actually trying the drink, students rated it 3x higher than their parents’ non-experiential opinions. It’s actually quite delicious! And a really great, filling, nutritious beverage for a college student rolling out of bed 5 minutes before class starts.

Our market research at Arteria has helped us feel more confident that we are providing a fun experience for college students, and high value for the brands we delivered. And we’ve never been more confident than when we send the following two most-loved items to college students

The Secret

Socks and chocolate. That’s right, college students LOVE socks and chocolate. These are by far the most consistently, highly-rated items we deliver, every time.

Chocolate, as a sample item, beats the average “love” rating for all other products by 24% points1. And it makes sense if you think about it. Chocolate contains caffeine, an essential college “nutrient.” Also, chocolate is a comfort food, well suited for a kid away from home. And chocolate is sweet—people love sweets—provided it’s not too junky a chocolate. Arteria, of course, only sends innovative and high-quality chocolates to our college student audience.

As much as chocolate is loved, college students rate socks even better!

One of our findings showed an overall 91% LOVE rating for a high-end sport sock delivered to the 18-23 female target demographic attending college. We were floored by this result. Socks as an item group outperform the average of all other categories by 31% points. It’s crazy how much college kids love socks. But this too makes sense.

What’s one of the biggest pain points for a newly minted college student? Something they’ve likely never had to manage before? Laundry. And socks will stack up waiting for that weekend laundry run.

Of all the clothing items one may not mind wearing for two days in a row, only one stands out in my mind: socks. A new pair of socks can potentially extend a college kids’ sock rotation 7-14% longer, depending on the size of their sock lineup. Socks are an easy crowd-pleaser.

Also, consider the consumable nature of socks. They get holes in the toes and heels and need regular replacement (depending on how funny one walks). So they are more like a consumable food item than they are like a clothing item. This consumption puts even more strain on a college kid’s wardrobe. But please don’t eat your socks.


So there you have it, college parents. That’s the secret sauce: Send some fun stuff from home, a little note to show you’re thinking about them, and heaping piles of socks and chocolate. They’ll love you forever, the science proves it.

Show 1 footnote

  1. Don’t worry about the other product categories, they are very well loved by college kids also