Grocery duty for guys: More men grab the handle

CHICAGO -- Danny Meyer, 35, began doing most of the household grocery shopping when his fiancee started graduate school. Meyer goes to Whole Foods for produce and specialty items, Jewel-Osco for staples and Trader Joe's when he needs to really st...

Daniel Ing looks over squash at a Whole Foods in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in October 2011. As more men take on the household grocery shopping duties, stores are targeting the new demographic. (Patricia Beck/Detroit Free Press/MCT)

CHICAGO -- Danny Meyer, 35, began doing most of the household grocery shopping when his fiancee started graduate school.

Meyer goes to Whole Foods for produce and specialty items, Jewel-Osco for staples and Trader Joe's when he needs to really stock up. He says he is not particularly brand-loyal and is susceptible to impulse buys.

"I walk in and go with the flow of the store, going aisle by aisle," he said. "I like to walk through all the aisles even if I don't think I need anything there, because sometimes something will catch my eye."

Meyer is part of a growing contingent of men taking over grocery duty. Experts say the trend has been building slowly for decades. But the recession hit men disproportionately with layoffs and left many of them home to manage the household.

The nation's biggest food and personal-products manufacturers are taking notice, attempting to market products and adjust store layouts to cater to men. It's a paradigm shift for the $560 billion retail food industry that has patently referred to the primary customer as "she," focusing marketing and advertising firepower on women, and mothers in particular -- sometimes making fun of dads in the process.


The female focus isn't lost on Meyer, who works as a brand manager for Bimbo Bakeries USA.

"It does kind of bother me that the focus seems to be toward moms and women in general," he said. "It seems obvious the target should represent more people."

Men ages 18 to 50, including Generation X and millennials, seem more than happy to do the shopping -- or at least tag along.

"I don't live with a girlfriend or anything," said concert promoter Judson Eakin, 25. "But even if I did, I wouldn't just send her" to grocery shop.

Eakin splits his shopping between nearby markets, bigger runs to Aldi for staples and trips to Jewel for higher-end items. He eats at home every day and considers cooking "a big hobby," searching for recipes with five-star reviews for inspiration.

According to consumer-research firm GfK MRI and an ESPN report, 31 percent of men nationwide were the primary household grocery shoppers in 2011, up from 14 percent in 1985.

Some estimates are higher. A nationwide survey of 1,000 fathers conducted by Yahoo and market research firm DB5 released early this year said 51 percent were the primary grocery shoppers in their household. Of that group, 60 percent said they were the primary decision-makers regarding consumer package goods, which includes packaged food.

"We're seeing more men doing grocery shopping and more young dads cooking with their kids as a way to bond with them at home," said Phil Lempert, a supermarket consultant. "It's very different from the whole metrosexual phenomenon of six, seven, eight years ago, but a much more down-to-earth (approach), not trying to show off, but trying to be part of the family."


Brad Harrington, executive director of the Center for Work and Family at Boston College, said "men on the homefront are where women in the workplace were 30 years ago," in terms of how they are portrayed on television and even in advertisements -- namely, as disengaged or incompetent.

"If we portrayed women like that in the workplace, there would be an outcry," he said.

But change appears to be under way.

Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co. began testing "man aisles" in 2009 and is expanding the program into some Walmart, Target and Walgreens stores as well as other chains in the U.S. and Canada in 2012.

As a result of focus groups and shopping alongside men, the company found that "many men were terribly uncomfortable with the shopping experience," P&G spokesman Damon Jones said.

"Our intent in creating guy aisles was to give them an experience that was comfortable for them and made it easier to navigate the store," he said.

On the food side, Barry Calpino, vice president of breakthrough innovation at Kraft Foods, said the company selected several products to market to men in 2011, with solid results. The Northfield, Ill.-based company developed, packaged and marketed MiO, bottles of liquid flavor droplets to make water more enticing.

"Guys, when it comes to shopping and cooking, they love to customize and add their own personal touch," Calpino said, adding that the interest also extends to beverages.


The brand is on track to do more than $100 million in sales its first year, a key new-product benchmark. Much of that success, Calpino said, "is attributable to the fact that we didn't launch it in the traditional way, thinking that she buys it, takes it home and he drinks it."

Kraft also scored with men in 2011 by way of its Philadelphia Cooking Creme, Calpino said, which he attributed in part to displaying it near chicken.

"We had a lot of guys who impulsively bought that product, thinking, 'What can I mix with chicken? I want to try something different,' " he said. Kraft sees opportunity here with its sauces and dressings that are easy add-ons to give meals a twist.

Sales volumes of Philly Cooking Creme were 20 percent above expectations in 2011, the company said, after a $35 million investment in advertising, in-store promotions, coupons and product demonstrations.

Calpino said the success of MiO, Philly Cooking Creme and other brands are case studies Kraft is presenting to the entire company, looking for other products where male-themed marketing makes sense.

Grocers are also looking for ways to get into the mix. A spokeswoman for Jewel said the chain is watching the trend toward more male shoppers but hasn't made any major changes. A Safeway spokeswoman said the company has man-friendly marketing in the works but declined to provide specifics.

Other chains have seen a good share of men for some time. Maggie Bahler, executive marketing coordinator for Whole Foods Market's Midwest region, said the chain's shoppers are about half men, although the company hasn't been tracking shopping habits by gender over time.

But, she said, the chain has never marketed specifically to men or women.

Men's shopping tendencies are causing food-makers to look at a different set of opportunities, as men appear to be less hurried in stores and more prone to impulse purchases than women.

"The mind-set has been that she shops, she really knows every inch of the store, she is really organized, has a list, is in a huge hurry," Calpino said. "We talk to a lot of these millennial guys about shopping, and the biggest headline is they're not as structured, not as hurried, much more experimental, more adventurous."

Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, chief strategy officer with Leo Burnett in Chicago, said men are slightly more inclined to shop around for the best prices than are women.

"Though men are very mission-driven, very grab-and-go, get-it-done, it's not at the expense of paying a price premium," he said. "They are very driven by finding best prices before making purchases, and they're not going to jettison quality either."

Abhi Hansoti, a 35-year-old management consultant, said that because he does most of his shopping at two stores, "I know prices at both places and I'll pick things based on the prices there."

Although Hansoti buys produce from Whole Foods because the quality is better "just from experience," he goes to Jewel for such items as bread and milk.

Hahn-Griffiths said men are less likely to ask for help finding an item but more likely to make a second sweep through the store, in case they've missed something.

"It's part of the hunter mind-set," he said. "When you're a hunter, you're more likely to move from place to place and recircle areas you might have missed."

As a result, men might also be spending more time in stores than women.

Despite price sensitivity on shopping-list items, experts say, men are also prone to impulse buys.

Susan Viamari, editor of Times & Trends at SymphonyIRI Group, explained that they "have a little brighter outlook on the economy and their finances, and this is going to impact their purchase behavior and their openness to impulsive purchases, trying new products, things of that nature."

Meyer, who shops on his own, recounted a recent purchase of a Samuel Adams holiday sampler at Jewel.

"I wasn't planning on buying beer, and I happened to walk by and they had it on display," he said. "I thought it sounded really good, so I'm going to buy it. And it was good."

Related Topics: FAMILY
What To Read Next
Columnist Tammy Swift says certain foods have become so expensive and in-demand that they outshine the traditional Valentine's Day gifts like roses or jewelry. Bouquet of eggs, anyone?
This week, gardening columnist Don Kinzler fields questions about planting potatoes, rabbit-resistant shrubs, and how to prevent tomato blossom end rot.
Columnist Jessie Veeder shares her reflections on the passage of time during a recent stroll of her farmstead.
Trends include vegetable gardens in raised pods and a continuing surge in using native plants and grasses.