More men now at the market

Darrel St. Aubin bags his groceries after shopping in Kirkwood, Missouri, on December 26, 2012. As more men take up the task of grocery shopping for the family, stores are targeting these shoppers with "man aisles." (Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT)

Although men have been doing more household shopping for years, since the onset of the recession, they've been hitting the aisles in greater numbers. Stores and manufacturers are paying closer attention to their shopping preferences. "We're seeing a lot of men who are stay-at-home dads, working from home, or looking for a job," said Phil Lempert, an industry analyst and consultant for ConAgra Foods. "That's changed everything."

Last year, Schnuck Markets released research showing that 6 percent more men have become their household's primary shopper compared with five years earlier. That research echoes national studies. A recent ESPN study found that 31 percent of grocery shopping is being done by men, up from about 14 percent in the 1980s.

Some chains, including Target and Walmart, have discussed launching "man aisles." One small chain in New York City has taken the concept to something of an extreme, stocking end caps — displays at the end of the aisles — with man-centric items. "We came across the ESPN study that showed the drastic increase in men shopping," said Ian Joskowitz, chief operating officer of New York-based Westside Market. "We figured: What can we do to cater to these guys? And we figured we'd make a little section for men, with beer, hot sauce, batteries, Doritos, beef jerky, Slim Jims."

The way men grocery shop is also changing.

It used to be that men did the "fill-in" shopping, after being dispatched to the store to get a few last-minute items. Now they're doing the menu-planning and filling up the cart. The recession may explain the trend, as men have been disproportionately laid off. "We've seen higher levels of unemployment among men — men who are in construction or trade jobs — and it's clamping down on their money," said Darren Tristano, of Chicago-based market research firm Technomic. "The additional time they have is spent focusing on how to reduce spending. In many households where women are the breadwinners, men are forced to do the shopping."

But more men are also shopping by choice, largely because more are cooking at home. "We've got a big trend in the culture. Just like people go to games, now they're going to dinner parties. They cook meals for each other," said Crystal Merritt of St. Louis advertising agency Rodgers Townsend. "It's cool to be a guy who cooks, and that's what's getting them into the food aisle."

Manufacturers and marketers are now positioning products to appeal to men — or, rather, to avoid pushing them away. "If you're overly positioning to women, then a 20-something guy who likes to cook for his girlfriend, he's going to be less engaged with it," Merritt said.

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