On a recent trip to Chicago, I had lunch at a place called Eataly, the brainchild of Italian businessman Oscar Farinetti. As soon as I walked through the doors, I was introduced to a multitude of Italian sights, sounds, smells and choices. This was not just one restaurant, but more of a World’s Fair of food; wall-to-wall stations featuring homemade pizza, mozzarella, olive oil, meat, seafood and gelato. Eataly also offers classes, tastings and events. There was a purpose, a theme, an inspiration through ideas and a perceived quality for all price ranges in this marketplace designed as a place to eat, shop and learn. Eataly is just one example of how grocery retail is changing with more and more options available to shoppers.

In every retail channel, the lines are blurring for food. Dollar stores carry produce competing with local grocers on quality and price. Organic food penetration in retail is now mainstream. Meal kits that were subscription only are now in store. Access to online pick up and delivery is predicted to reach 90 percent of U.S. markets and the creation of new concepts like Amazon Go are emerging.

The average shopper visits four different retailers for groceries¹ in a highly competitive environment in which every retailer is fighting for the same dollars and traffic. The result: most retailers only capture 30 percent of their customer base while the remaining 70 percent are spending elsewhere.² Acquiring new customers and influencing current shoppers to purchase more is vital for retailers.

So how do grocery retailers reach and activate consumers in this changing landscape where options are numerous and the competition is fierce? Print remains the number one media strategy. Consider this, 64 percent of shoppers frequently look at print circulars weekly for deals on groceries.³ Why? The physical ability to touch and flip pages in the convenience of their homes creates a multi-sensory experience that improves retention. To build on this feeling, we need retailers to take the Eataly experience and put it into print to drive engagement with consumers.

For decades, retailers have placed ad slots in their circular with product and price, balancing manufacturer agreements, store brand needs and special initiatives. It is no easy task when most supermarkets carry 30,098 items, but the average circular is around 8.7 pages.4 Fewer pages packed with more product blocks are not better as research shows page count reduction leads to lower sales than those with higher pager counts.5 Currently, there is too much on a page fighting for the consumer’s attention and not enough of a story to draw them in. Grocery retailers are challenged, however, with the thought that if the product isn’t shown, it isn’t bought.

Despite the temptation to trim pages from the weekly ad, retailers are taking the opposite approach around key holidays and sales periods. Many are innovating by adding pages to their weekly ad while others are creating customized coupon books targeted to key audience segments. In the chart you can see February/March indexes at 136 (or 36 percent greater page count than the average weekly ad) as they feature frozen food month, St. Patrick’s Day items, Lenten options, spring cleaning and allergy. Some important tactics are utilized such as organizing by themes, net down pricing (full price shown, discount, then final price) and coupons. In fact, 90 percent of millennial parents decide which store(s) to shop at based on where they can use paper coupons 6. Adding pages with a purpose, a theme, an inspiration through ideas and a perceived quality for all price ranges is getting closer to success – the “Eataly” effect.


Source: Market Track 2018 Circular Page Counts indexed to average weekly page counts for Grocery

Surprisingly, page counts of weekly ads aimed at driving Thanksgiving and Christmas grocery trips are below average, yet this is a time when consumers are spending and shopping. It is also contrary to drug and mass retailers who place great importance on these holidays and boost print ad pages. Did I mention their average circular page count is almost double grocery at 17+? 4 The long-standing theory is everyone buys a turkey or ham so why advertise, but grocers are missing a huge opportunity to connect with Thanksgiving and Christmas shoppers. There are many areas to consider promoting such as pre-made meals, frozen pizza, side dishes, beer/wine, catering, desserts, decorations, floral, alternatives to meat and so much more. Grocers have also learned that consumers naturally compare prices, so viewing options helps lure them into buying featured items.Print circulars also drive the decision on what and where to shop for groceries. Recent findings from the 2K19 Coupon Intelligence Report indicate 51 percent of all consumers look at printed store circular/ads for the specific retailers they are going to shop; 46 percent look at those same ads to decide where to shop. Additional findings reveal:

    • 45 percent frequently use coupons;
    • 40 percent load coupons onto a loyalty/frequent shopper card; and
    • 40 percent look at online circulars/weekly ads for specific retailers they plan to shop.

So, to truly engage consumers, retailers must put their customers first, strategically planning their advertising campaign, creating an experience and using multiple, cross-channel touchpoints. When online and offline work together, retailers can connect social influencers for recipes and ideas, incorporate more lifestyle imagery, create a treasure hunt for new and unique items and transform the valuable weekly ad into one that truly inspires. Marrying great deals with a positive experience will help drive revenue and traffic.


¹ Kantar Retail ShopperScape®, January 2016–December 2017; Food Drug Mass (FDM)

 ² Kantar Retail ShopperScape® – Retailers Shopped past 4 weeks X and Where Spent Most on Food and Groceries in the Past Week. Feb 2019 (Avg. of 30.3% from Retailers profiled:  Target, Walmart, Meijer, Costco, Ahold, Delhaize, Kroger, Albertsons, SEG, HEB, Hy-Vee, Publix, and Aldi)

³ Market Track Grocery Survey, Q1 2018. Adults 18+, Q: How frequently do you look at print circulars for deals on groceries? Every Week

 4 Numerator 2018 Page Count Analysis and Chart

 5 Market Track, 26 Weeks 5/12/18; IRI CSIA, 26 Weeks 4/22/18, Retailer Dollars; 20+ page increase = 15 account/city combinations, 20+ page decrease = 29 account/city combinations

 6 Valassis Coupon Intelligence Study, 2018.