Manhattan resident Dave Fasano thoroughly enjoys grocery shopping and views what some consider a mundane chore as fun and challenging – and he’s s definitely not alone.
Fasano, 48, scours his East Village neighborhood markets for sales, carefully reviewing the store circulars to find the best deals for family dinners. Married with a seven-year-old son, Fasano estimates he does about half the household grocery shopping and cooks most of the meals he buys. Recently, he prepared Chinese-style ribs with sautéed broccoli, purchasing pork ribs on sale for $1.99 a pound. He added soy sauce, rice vinegar, oil, brown rice and fruit preserves.
One fundamental shopping disagreement he has with his wife, Nicole, is that she tends to buy more expensive organic foods, while he prefers food on sale and heavier meals like Italian sausage.
“For me, shopping is fun because I challenge myself to make something great out of what is on sale,” he says. “Once I see that, the ideas about what I’m going to prepare come to me. I get a charge out of making a lot out of a little. I feel like I’m channeling my inner peasant.”
Fasano, like so many other American men, is increasingly taking on a task some still stereotypically associate with women. According to multiple studies, surveys and anecdotal information, more men are equally sharing grocery shopping, while some are even taking on a majority of the shopping load.
Midan Marketing, a Chicago-based agency that represents meat industry clients like Tyson Fresh Meats, released a survey in August that found 47 percent of the men who buy and eat meat were responsible for at least half their household grocery shopping. Forty-nine percent of the 900 men surveyed said they enjoyed grocery shopping, while 58 percent were very conscious of what they spent on beef, pork and chicken. (The survey focused on meat shopping only.)
Michael Uetz, a managing principal at Midan Marketing, says the company coined the phrase “manfluencers” last year to describe those men who like to shop, cook, barbecue, and sometimes clip coupons. These men have growing influence over how their families shop, according to Uetz.
Uetz says he was surprised that there were few gender differences in shopping habits between these so-called manfluencers and traditional women shoppers.
Phil Lempert, a consumer trends analyst and the CEO of SupermarketGuru.com, anticipated that men’s “influence on our foods [is] becoming stronger as even more dads join the ranks of shopper and cook,” he wrote last December. A 2012 survey from Cone Communications found that 52 percent of fathers identified themselves as the primary grocery shopper in the family. And a 2011 survey by ESPN disclosed that 31 percent of all grocery shoppers are men, up from just 14 percent in 1985.
One factor fueling the trend? It’s the millennial-generation men who are passionate about food, says Lempert. They’re willing to experiment with new flavors and more likely to shop or share those duties with their partners. Another key factor is that more men are working from home, a development in part attributed to the 2008 recession.
THE GROCERS’ OPPORTUNITY
The growing trend presents an enormous opportunity for supermarket chains, according to Lempert, but he asserts that most are behind the curve and so far squandering their opportunities.
“Unfortunately, they’re not doing what they should be doing,” he says. “We are starting to see some recognizing that education is the way to go and that acknowledging the male shopper doesn’t mean creating ‘the male aisle.’”
(The male aisle is a reference to a Manhattan supermarket that last year launched a male aisle, an area stocked with products typically associated with men, like beer and chips.)
Hy-Vee Inc., a supermarket chain based in West Des Moines, Iowa, with 234 stores in eight Midwestern states, is aware there are more male customers than in the past – but it doesn’t have any programs specifically aimed at them, says Hy-Vee spokeswoman Chris Frieslebent. She adds that the company is considering a new “lifestyle” initiative with men in mind, but it’s too early in the planning stages to discuss.
Lempert says some stores offer tours and cooking classes with chefs and dieticians that help men learn new recipes. He suggests supermarkets set up wide screen TVs that on weekends are tuned to the latest college and professional football games – so men can keep one eye on the scores while continuing to shop.
He also recommends promotions like male-only shopping hours for tours and tastings, and signage that display specific nutrients important for men’s health. (Tomatoes, for example, contain lycopene, a nutrient associated with a reduction in male heart disease.)
Stephanie Coontz, director of Research and Public Education at the Council on Contemporary Families in Washington, says men are finally discovering that food shopping doesn’t have to be drudgery.
But she says there can be differences in gender shopping styles and habits. While women tend to create food lists and plan meals for the upcoming week, “men are less likely to think about what needs to be done in light of the whole family schedule. I suspect that extends to planning the week’s menus and shopping lists,” she says.
Coontz says men who are assuming control over – or sharing the responsibility for family grocery shopping – should be given free rein.
“Guys have to be willing to learn to do it themselves without being given a list by their spouses,” she says. “If he’s choosing fruit, a woman has to back off and trust him to do it without second guessing.”