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Retailers adjust marketing as more men take over grocery shopping

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

Meyer goes to Whole Foods in Chicago 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, 35, 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.

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The nation’s biggest food and personal products manufacturers are taking notice, trying 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.

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“I don’t live with a girlfriend or anything,” said Judson Eakin, a 25-year-old concert promoter. “But even if I did, I wouldn’t just send her” to grocery shop.

Eakin eats at home every day and considers cooking “a big hobby,” searching FoodNetwork.com for recipes with five-star reviews for inspiration.

According to consumer research firm GfK MRI and an ESPN report, 31% of men nationwide were the primary household grocery shoppers in 2011, up from 14% 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% were the primary grocery shoppers in their household. Of that group, 60% 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 that “men on the home front 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 underway. Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co. began testing “man aisles” in 2009 and is expanding the program into some Wal-Mart, Target and Walgreens stores as well as other chains in the U.S. and Canada in 2012.

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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.

In many stores, men’s personal care products were scattered across various aisles, often in subprime locations like a bottom shelf or the end of an aisle, Jones said. Men had little patience searching for lotion and body wash, especially when weaving through contingents of women and teenage girls.

The man aisle puts all men’s products, including P&G competitors, in one place, with shelf displays and even small TV screens to guide men to the appropriate skin care items. Jones said the tests have gone well, with men spending more time in the aisles and, ultimately, more money.

On the food side, Barry Calpino, vice president of breakthrough innovation at Kraft Foods Inc., said the company selected several products to market to men in 2011, with solid results. The Northfield, Ill., 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.

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“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% 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.

eyork@tribune.com


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