If you like saving money on fresh foods, you’re in luck – grocery stores say they’re likely to offer more deals on items like meat and produce. But you may have to go online to find out about them.

Those are some of the predictions in a new survey of grocery store owners across the country.

Grocery marketing company Aptaris and customer research firm dunnhumby polled the owners of more than 4,600 grocery stores across 34 states to produce their report, “Advertising & Promotional Practices Among U.S. Grocery Retailers“.

What they found was that your store’s weekly ad is likely to look a lot different in just a few years.

First, there’s the matter of the products featured in the ad. Half of the grocers surveyed said most decisions about what goes on sale each week, are driven by the major manufacturers whose products are advertised. That’s why it often seems like the same items, from the same brands, are on sale over and over again. But the majority of grocers predict a growing shift toward non-branded sale items like perishables, prepared foods and private-label products. So you may notice fewer packaged products and more fresh foods in the weekly ads that show up on your doorstep in the near future.

That is, if your store continues to print a weekly ad at all.

“The paper circular continues to be the most widely used form of grocery advertising, but for how long?” the report asks.

85% of grocers say they expect to reduce spending on, and circulation of, the print ad in the next five years. And 10% say they’re unlikely to be printing a weekly ad at all anymore.


That’s because they’re beginning to make the shift to digital. 87% already have a digital circular available, and 8% say they’re working on it. But the sophistication level of those digital circulars varies. Larger retailers are more likely to have an interactive version that’s searchable, clickable and allows you to make a shopping list. But others are pretty basic. “Right now our online circular is just a PDF of the paper copy,” one survey respondent said.

Moving to digital circulars presents grocers with an opportunity to move away from paper circulars – an expense that costs them millions of dollars a year. While most grocers still run weekly circulars, some are starting to scale back. “Half of our stores are weekly, the other half bi-weekly to start testing the impact,” one grocer said.

Even coupons are making the shift. About four in 10 retailers include coupons in their paper circulars. But a quarter of them predict they’ll offer fewer in-ad coupons in the future. Half, meanwhile, offer digital coupons, while another quarter expect to have them soon.

Curiously, the report found significant regional differences when it comes to digital coupons. More than 60% of East Coast grocers currently offer them, while only 40% do in the Midwest, and only 33% in the West.

So not everything has gone digital just yet. But “consumer usage is trending away from reviewing the paper circular at home,” the report declares. It cites recent research from the Retail Feedback Group that “promotional research is increasingly shifting toward mobile and digital.”

According to that report, 26% of shoppers said they check the digital version of the weekly ad – up 10% from last year. But it also found that 56% check the paper ad at home before they shop – also up 10% from last year.

So are shoppers really ready to say goodbye to the good old-fashioned printed grocery circular? Or is this imminent shift to digital just wishful thinking on the part of grocery stores, which would love to get out of paper altogether? Less than half of the grocers surveyed said they plan to reallocate whatever savings they experience by getting out of paper, to other marketing vehicles. They just want to put that savings right into their pockets.

And good luck with that. After all, Safeway once said it was “working hard… to get out of the paper ads” – and that was four years ago. CVS has spent several years attempting to wean its shoppers off paper ads as well. Some retailers may be too busy seeing dollar signs, to listen to what their customers really want. “We need to do this at some point. Like everyone else, we’d love to move away from the circular,” one grocer said. “But right now, it’s our most successful tool.”

So why throw away something that’s working? As long as paper circulars still bring in business, don’t expect your printed weekly ad to disappear any time soon. For now, at least, it seems grocers might be bigger fans of digital circulars than shoppers are.



  1. I found that I automatically go to the nearest neighborhood store for my supplies without a circular inticing me to shop elsewhere. Out for of sight, out of mind is definitely working with me. I miss the paper circulars letting me know what’s available in other stores.

  2. But back in the day, I LOVED circulars. Now though, I look online as I don’t want the clutter of hardcopy.

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