‘Don’t Lose Local News’ Campaign Urges Kroger to Keep Weekly Papers in Stores

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Local, independent journalism will get kicked to the curb in more than 20 markets later this month as the Kroger Co. removes free publications from all of its grocery stores nationwide.

The news has left a number of alternative weeklies scrambling to find new locations for their papers while trying to get Kroger and its brands to negotiate a resolution allowing for continued distribution at the high-traffic sites. The Cincinnati-based grocery giant has been relatively silent on the issue, stymying publishers who rely on the grocer for as much as 25 percent of their circulation.

“Our frustration is they will not return our calls,” said John Weiss, founder and chairman of the Colorado Springs Independent in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “They won’t dialog with us.”

Kroger ended its contract with Tulsa, Oklahoma-based DistribuTech Media Solutions which handles the grocer’s free publication racks. Word then quickly spread among members of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia. At least 21 of the 99 member publications distribute through Kroger or its stores which include brands such as King Soopers and Fred Meyer.

According to an Aug. 26 email from DistribuTech, Kroger decided “the racks are no longer driving customer engagement in stores.”

After repeated attempts to reach Kroger’s head of media relations Kristal Howard, Teresa Dickerson, a corporate affairs manager for Kroger’s Delta division, issued the following statement: “We are removing the DistribuTech racks because more publications continue to shift to digital formats, resulting in less [sic] customers using the products.”

Yet alt weekly readers—on paper—appear to be a potentially lucrative market according to figures provided by the Media Audit, a Houston-based audience and consumer research company. Media Audit provided consumer information for Washington, D.C., the Washington City Paper and Kroger’s Harris Teeter Neighborhood Food & Pharmacy.

According to Media Audit, only 26 percent of adults in Washington live in households with at least five people, while 48 percent of City Paper readers live in similar-sized households. Also, 39 percent of City Paper adult readers live in dual income families, compared with 29 percent of Harris Teeter shoppers who live in dual income families. City Paper readers also spend 75 percent more time a day with newspapers than Harris Teeter shoppers—157 minutes versus 90 minutes respectively. Additionally, the average City Paper reader is 39 years old, 10 years younger than the average adult shopper at Harris Teeter.

“At 39 years of age, the lucrative alternative reader has a lot more shopping years in them than the current Harris Teeter reader,” wrote Media Audit CEO Phil Beswick. “You would think that Harris Teeter would want to attract more of those affluent family people who are picking up the City Paper than to force them to go elsewhere.”

Berl Schwartz, publisher of City Pulse in Lansing, Michigan, said, “All the attention to declining readership of local paid newspapers has made the public think that all print is dying and that’s not true. Our numbers at Kroger alone have gone from about 1,100 papers in 2012 to 3,100 papers a week.”

That represents more than 16 percent of City Pulse’s weekly circulation of 19,000.

In Memphis, Kroger represents about 20 percent of The Flyer’s circulation according to Contemporary Media CEO Anna Traverse. Traverse expects they can find other outlets to make up any lost distribution if Kroger follows through on its scheme, but that’s not her greatest concern.

“The more important question is what does this mean for Flyer readers and for Memphis?” she said. “We are not in a great position in terms of Memphians’ access to free news and information. Memphis is a city with a lot of poverty, a lot of transportation challenges for some folks and having something that is free and available in the place where people shop for their families makes it so much easier for people who maybe don’t have Internet access. I can’t stress enough how much it worries me in terms of the news desert phenomenon we’re seeing throughout the country.”

Weiss and the Independent are spearheading a “Don’t Lose Local News” campaign that includes a “un-boycott” of Kroger’s King Soopers, which distributes the Independent. The paper published a cover story and editorial in the latest edition, urging readers to contact their local stores through social media, via email, and through Kroger’s customer service number to ask the chain to keep distributing the Independent. The paper even printed a form for readers to fill out and turn in at their local King Soopers.

“King Soopers is going to learn how many of their customers really want to be able to pick up the Independent,” Weiss said. “And it’s more than just picking up the Independent, it’s the concept we need to protect media. Independent media needs support and this is one thing tangible that people can do. If they don’t see the light, they’ll feel the heat.”

Editor’s Note: Please visit our podcasts page for an exclusive interview with John Weiss as he discusses how the Kroger decision will affect his paper and other alt-weeklies around the U.S.

9 thoughts on “‘Don’t Lose Local News’ Campaign Urges Kroger to Keep Weekly Papers in Stores

  • September 23, 2019 at 7:46 am
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    Freedom of free speech

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    • October 11, 2019 at 9:06 am
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      “Freedom of speech” applies to the government per se, not to a private-sector business, which also enjoys freedom of speech to make its own business decisions, as long as they don’t violate laws. It’s remarkable — and disconcerting — how many people in general (and apparently even in the media industry) don’t understand the 1st Amendment. Almost without fail, but with considerable irony, whenever the 1st Amendment is invoked to castigate a company, it’s by someone who misinterprets that primary law of the land.

      Reply
  • September 23, 2019 at 12:32 pm
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    Please keep this program in place. Many independent publications are picked up at these racks. Your customers will be disappointed they have to go to one of your competitors for retrieval of their favorite publications.

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  • September 23, 2019 at 3:21 pm
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    I agree with Doris. Beginning this week our only choice is to send all location inquiries to Safeway. Prior, we gave them both options (Safeway and King Soopers) and let them choose. King Soopers is a part of Kroger and is eliminating our racks. Like John Weiss, our calls and emails to King Soopers corporate have gone unanswered. Local store managers said it is out of their control and directed us back to corporate.

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  • September 24, 2019 at 11:02 am
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    Don’t take away our local news

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  • September 26, 2019 at 12:32 pm
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    Sadly it appears that Kroger, like Winco, is not taking into consideration how many local, independently owned businesses they are actually impacting with this decision. We had an independent publisher’s meeting 3 weeks ago – and between the 5 publishers that were able to attend, we represented more than 325 local businesses who advertise with us! Many of these business owners and their employees shop these stores – they ARE their customers – not to mention all of our readers who will be forced to go to other locations to pick us up (will they take their shopping dollars with them?). Corporations like Kroger and Winco both claim to be community minded but it seems their actions speak louder than their words. As publishers we’ve paid to rent this space, we haven’t been asking for a handout – we have been doing business with them, much like their grocery vendors. Locally, the space where our racks were in Winco is still empty, more than 2 years after they pulled the racks – their “more profitable” claw machines occupy other real estate in the same foyers – if it was truly their profit margins they were interested in they could be making even more profit by having left our racks in place AND showing real commitment to our community. As a publisher I’ve been reaching out to both Kroger and Winco – and all I hear in reply is crickets.

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  • September 27, 2019 at 1:37 pm
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    Very disappointing that I will not be able to always get my Horse Source magazine at Fred Myers I do not understand where the stores problems is

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  • September 28, 2019 at 5:55 pm
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    If nothing works and the local papers are removed, I would ask readers to go to the stores that allow the papers in. If Kroger’s and some others treat local, independent businesses this way, there is good reason to suspect they strong-arm and try to dominate other aspects of businesses in your community, such as trying to eliminate their own competition through pricing schemes. If news no longer matters to Kroger’s and the others, be sure and publish any “community news about the chain, including how milions and millions of people are going to be going to Amazon and Wal-Mart for groceries. Write it up when the much cheaper Aldi’s and Lydl supermarkets come to your city.
    Kroger may feel that it can do without you and your readers, but Kroger
    has its own problems with much more competition coming. Let Kroger know
    that you do do without them, too. With the coming of home delivery of groceries,
    drone delivery in some places, Amazon and others in the game, Kroger is going to have a whole lot more to worry about than newspaper racks.

    Reply
  • September 28, 2019 at 6:49 pm
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    The free Horse Source and other publications is an appreciated item in your stores- it’s a giveback to your shoppers!

    Reply

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