NEW YORK: Walmart, the retailer, is hoping to tap a growing interest in niche foods and social media among US shoppers by launching an internet subscription service and related online community.

Developed by its @WalmartLabs digital unit, the new service, Goodies Co, will send a "gift box" of five-to-seven "taster samples", covering healthy, organic, artisan and "ethnic" items, for $7 a month.

Consumers can then order full-size products from the Goodies Co website. Each delivery will have a theme, like "flavours of the world" or "trick-or-treat" sweets at Halloween.

The company's traditional focus on everyday low price is not entirely absent from the venture, with the food lines it distributed in November costing $15, double the subscription fee.

Walmart has been testing the service with more than 3,000 people since June, and has created a web community for the project, where customers earn loyalty points by uploading product reviews.

"If you're active in the site, participating in the community features, the box will eventually be free for you," Ravi Raj, @WalmartLabs' vice president, products told Advertising Age.

Despite this, Raj suggested Goodies Co was not going to serve as a loss leader for Walmart, adding that the primary objective at present is to build up the audience base.

"Certainly the value is tremendous," he argued. "But our focus right now is just on the customer experience. If we continue to delight you each month with new products, we think you will be loyal."

During the trial phase, approximately half of the 3,000 test customers reviewed items and around a third posted comments for almost every offering they received, which is good for suppliers.

"They get free market research by participating," he said. Similarly, for Walmart itself, this information could "hugely valuable in the ecosystem," Raj said.

Word of mouth, especially through social media, is set to be the main means of attracting consumers to this service, but it will also utilise some digital and search advertising.

Data sourced from AdAge; additional content by Warc staff