Over the last couple of years, we have kept a close eye on the print ad distribution market – in reality, we have known for a long time that printing and distributing a weekly print ad was going to end at some point. Like so many other things impacted by the pandemic, the print ad industry has struggled and it appears conditions may have changed enough to where we may be moving away from the print ad and refocusing all our efforts on driving stores’ shoppers to their digital ad.

Before we go any further, as we know this news might cause some uncertainty. While the print ad may be ending, AFS will continue creating a weekly digital ad and we have many other awesome promotional tools in the hopper (one of which is explained below).

As you might imagine, the move from distributing a weekly print ad to focusing on a weekly digital ad is big. AFS has helped our retailers with their weekly print ads for decades and has built an amazing program, working with many awesome teams and partners, like Quad, Signature Graphics, Utah Press, Vericast (formerly Valassis) to produce and distribute a weekly print ad for our retailers – a process that has been fairly simple and reliable.

One partnership that will continue is eComSystems. AFS uses eComSystems to design and create the weekly ad. Fortunately for retailers and AFS, they are also the group that supports our digital ad program – a program that was already ahead of its time. While many grocers were using PDFs of their ads on their websites, eComSystems has been with us for about 11 years and during that time, they provided our retailers with dynamic online ads allowing shoppers to click on items to learn more about them, create shopping lists, switch between item and full-ad views, clip digital coupons, integrate with online shopping platforms and much more.

Given this background, we want our team to understand the tremendous effort that has taken place behind the scenes over the last several years in preparation for this day. Our teams in advertising, category management, retail council and marketing have worked to keep watch over the existing program and have been working together to build the replacement program that will take over as we shift from print to digital. Derid Kunz, David Panter, April Rice and others have collaborated closely with Maddie Gilbert, Heather Hall and their teams to work through digital options that will replace print ad distribution. We have also had the assistance and leadership of Jim Benedict, owner and operator of Benedict’s Market in Mountain View, Wyoming. Jim leads AFS’ Advertising Committee.

AFS has also partnered, and will continue to work, with eComSystems to help develop new ways for our retailers to manage their digital marketing efforts more easily.

As you might imagine, making the move from print to digital will be one of the largest transitions our retailers have faced in recent years and I would put this on par with when AFS transitioned the warehouse or when we moved from Western Family to Topco for our Exclusive Brands programs.

What is most impressive to us is to have watched the teamwork and camaraderie that has been developed across many of our departments as we have been prepping for this move. While not every tool has been fully built to support this change, our teams have been working non-stop to help our retailers better understand and prepare for this change.

There have been recent news and market conditions that we are monitoring closely. Several large printers have shut down, the most recent of which was one of our former partners, Quad Graphics. Vericast, who we have worked with closely over the years, is currently making some significant changes to their print distribution program and several of our retailers have been impacted. It is likely we are on the precipice of some major changes where print ad distribution is concerned.

The grocery industry continues to be very fluid. However, we are encouraged by the amazing teams we have at AFS that keep watch over these changes and help us adapt. As we make this transition, we are excited for the change to come and the new opportunities that will arise. As more of our retailers move into digital marketing like social media and other modern marketing tools, they will be much better positioned to connect with shoppers in the ways that are far more relevant and open up new opportunities for them to improve how many shoppers they can reach and the frequency they can interact with them. These are truly exciting times and while there may be more bumps in the road ahead, we will continue to push on, helping our retailers to thrive; helping their teams have good, productive lives; and making a positive difference in the local communities they serve.