As recently as a generation ago, men's presence in the grocery store was limited at best, but that role has been undergoing a change for the last 20 years, to the point now that men claim to do close to two-thirds of the typical family shopping, according to marketing firm Vertis.

As David Mick, marketing professor at the University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce, noted, “No doubt, men's and women's shopping roles have changed. Men are more often going into grocery stores and buying categories of things they would not have bought a generation ago. It has been going on for the past 20 years and has been steadily rising.”

According to the “2005 HealthFocus Trend Report,” 57% of (men today) say they have a great deal of control over what their family eats, compared with only 46% in 2002. For that matter, “Customer Focus: Retail,” a study by Vertis, found males aged 18 to 34 are more likely to do 60% or more of the grocery shopping for their household. Around 52% of the 35 to 49 male demographic, meanwhile, will handle that much of the grocery shopping burden, while 54% of those over 50 will be responsible. However, this might be somewhat misleading.

Men may be frequenting the grocery store more, but research by David Stewart at the University of Southern California suggests these purchases are being done with a list provided by a woman. Stewart contends men get “lost in today's fast-paced supermarkets” without a list. While acknowledging more men than ever are making the decisions about which groceries to purchase, Stewart nevertheless believes, “That is a much more modest phenomenon than the rising trend of the female giving the male a list, complete with brand names to buy.”

If the packaging is any indication, many energy drinks appear designed primarily for a male audience: case in point, SoBe's energy beverage which actually beckons the super-man. Curiously, Coca-Cola's booths at recent trade shows have promoted the male focus of Vault, the energy drink soda, citing the drink as “The first hybrid soda for blue-collar males, 20-30”; however, a Coke spokesperson notes the product has not been formulated with any male orientation in mind.

Male Order

Research by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation shows price is a significant factor men consider when grocery shopping (note the chart “Male Call”). “Super-discount grocery stores are proving to be popular with a number of different groups, including men,” explains Therese Mulvey, vice president of marketing with Vertis. “Our research shows that the average amount spent by men on groceries in the past two weeks was $62, compared with $50 for women.” So, price appears important but, as IFIC determined, taste likely rules male shopping patterns.

The Food Marketing Institute (FMI), in its “U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2006” report, found quite a disparity in the behavior of men and women when it comes to the supermarket. “Male and female shoppers behave differently in the supermarket, possess different attitudes toward shopping and use information related to shopping to different degrees,” it explains. “Men plan less, use supermarket information less and emphasize economy less than females. They also place less importance on quality and service, but highly value speed and convenience.”

Research by IFIC and other groups would suggest FMI missed an important factor influencing male purchasing behavior. While manufacturers have continued to market the healthy attributes of their products primarily at the female population, the “2005 HealthFocus Trend Report” revealed companies may be missing an important selling point, as “men are shopping healthy, too.”

Fewer men, it found, are price sensitive than women (51% versus 60%), though males are also less likely to put an emphasis on such label claims as “lower in sugar,” “sugar-free,” “fresh” or “whole grain.” Still, according to Linda Gilbert, president of HealthFocus International, “in the last two years, men have gotten more involved in familial health. While women continue to generally feel responsible for maintaining healthy families, the statistics show that men are becoming more health active, not just for themselves but for their families.”

Gilbert also contends the health objective differs for men versus women. “While healthy choices are becoming more important to men,” she observes, “it is critical to understand that their motivations are quite different from women's. Men are more motivated by extrinsic benefits (such as looking productive, accomplished and in control), while women are more motivated by intrinsic benefits (such as 'feeling better about myself').”

The standard effort to lure men long has been simply to cram as much food as possible into the meal. A number of Hungry-Man frozen dinners now feature “1LB” entrées, though the line has seen an expansion to cultivate guys looking for a little diversity.

Talk to the Guys

A great number of the products on store shelves are “gender neutral,” argues a report by Research and Markets. “Gender Marketing: Strategies in Food and Drinks: Future Profit Opportunities” says men and women “feel they are not targeted appropriately by marketers; too many products are gender neutral, and consumers feel there is a lack of products targeted directly at them.” Of the new products released between January of 2000 and the end of 2004, 0.6% were aimed explicitly at women, and only 0.2% at men, it says. For that matter, a search of Mintel International's Global New Products Database (GNPD) finds a total of five new foods and beverages released for men in the U.S. in the last year (two of which were Hungry-Man line extensions).

That said, manufacturers use imagery on packaging to convey a gender orientation: products targeting women tend to feature curvy fonts, pastel colors and dainty packaging. For example, a small container, cursive font and lavender background lure the female eye to Yoplait Whips!, while male-oriented products show large portions and bold fonts—Hungry-Man frozen meals.

The message spills over into advertising campaigns. Television commercials for McDonald's Fruit and Walnut Salad primarily showed women enjoying the product. When enticing men, however, television ads tend to focus on portion size or sex. Carl's Jr. opted for both by having Paris Hilton washing a car while (supposedly) eating its giant burger. Burger King has made the target audience for its Texas Double Whopper perfectly clear: the commercial campaign declares “I am man!”

Some 53% of men may drink diet beverages, but many of these beverages have abandoned the term “diet,” the strategy used by PepsiCo with Pepsi One and Coca-Cola with its “zero” line.

Male Models

Women tend to be the target consumers for foods with more-healthful qualities, i.e., yogurt, salads and diet foods. Men, on the other hand, are more apt to be tempted with large portions of pizza, hamburgers and salty snacks. The argument has been made that this is due to the influence of media and how it stresses appearance to women, while being more accepting of men's body flaws. However, the International Journal of Eating Disorders finds men's body perceptions are changing, as well. Such a “culture of muscularity,” fostered by TV commercials with muscular actors, can be linked to eating disorders or steroid abuse among men, according to researchers at the University of Central Florida. Some 70% of high school males are dieting, says a study touted by Dr. Theodore Weltzin of Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc, Wis. “More males,” he says, “are engaged in really abnormal eating behavior in terms of skipping meals, in terms of engaging in purging after eating, and laxative use.”

The notion that dieting and diet products are strictly for women is a relic of the past. While diet beverages, for example, long were tailored to a female audience, they have grown in popularity among men. A study by the Calorie Control Council shows male consumption of diet drinks has surged in the past decade: in 1994, 39% of men regularly purchased diet drinks; that increased to 53% by 2004.

Manufacturers have broadened the diet beverage market with various measures, including avoiding the term “diet” altogether. Coca-Cola, on the other hand, adjusted its Diet Coke ads to shed overtly female overtones and added flavors like lime to the product. Coke's statistics show 46% of Diet Coke drinkers are male.

PepsiCo dumped the “diet” moniker with the 1998 launch of the male-targeted Pepsi One. Initial sales were strong, peaking at 83.7 million cases in 1999, but have fallen steeply since. A recent reformulation with sucralose and a repackaging to “tilt masculine, with a black-and-gray label” is part of an attempt to rehabilitate the product.

For many men, however, their entire diet needs rehabilitation. A study by the American Institute for Cancer research categorized most men's eating habits into five patterns, only one of which was even remotely positive. It evaluated 750 men over a 16-year period, finding more than 75% in each group were overweight or obese. Guys in the “empty calorie” group consumed the most refined grains and desserts, as well as the most sweets, salty snacks, and high-fat meat and dairy foods. Not surprisingly, they also had the highest average calorie consumption and intake of saturated fat.

“Lower variety” men consume the least vegetables and fruits, as well as whole grains, fiber and many nutrients. Their high sodium intake and low potassium intake leaves them at high risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.

Men in the “higher starch” group eat few fruits and vegetables, but plenty of refined grains and more calories than any other group, increasing levels of insulin and inflammation—and the risk of diabetes and some cancers.

The “average male” opts for meat and, as a result, has a diet high in saturated fat and low in fruits and vegetables. The high fat consumption also tempts fate by contributing to the highest blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels. “Average males” are also the fattest group.

Seemingly, the only hope for the future rests with the “transition to heart healthy” fellows. They consume the most vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fish, yet the lowest amount of saturated fat. Even these guys, however, had a heart disease risk “too high for good health.”

Healthful products may be regarded as primarily for females by many manufacturers, but there is ample opportunity to reach males with a nutritional focus. Flavor is another aspect that may have potential to lure the lads. Common logic holds that men's taste perceptions are less sensitive than women's and, therefore, leave men looking for more powerful flavors. This may partially explain the emergence of “bold” as a positioning for various products. The last year has seen 68 such new products, says the GNPD, including mints, almonds and beverages. However, one scientist has determined certain aromas can get the guy's attention.

Alan Hirsch with the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation (STTRF) has launched STTRF Timeless View. Well-known for his exploration into the odors and combinations that can stimulate men (see chart “Something in the Air”), Hirsch says, “The aroma (of Timeless View) appears to convince the male brain to take a more optimistic view of physical attributes of those women wearing it. However, only men are affected by this combination of scents. An interesting aspect of this product is that the same results do not occur for women viewing men or women viewing other women.” He claims the “unique combination of scents” makes men view women as being six years younger than their actual age.

Scent as a method for marketing to men would be unique. Taste and portion size long have held court for those seeking to attract the male food dollar, but new efforts are capitalizing on an increased recognition of what is important to guys. For that matter, recent campaigns to market meal replacements, energy drinks and health beverages have shown gender targeting can be a valuable selling tool.

Sidebar: A Grill's Best Friend

Grilling long has been a cooking style embraced by males. Perhaps it is a throwback to the days of cooking over an open flame; possibly it allows the man to indulge his culinary side; maybe it just gets him out of the house. Regardless, a survey of 1,032 men aged 21 to 55 found 20% claim they “truly enjoy the art of grilling.”

The survey, by propane provider Blue Rhino, discovered 61% of men grill because they believe the food tastes better when it is cooked in such a way; furthermore, almost half claimed they use their grills at least five times a month. Blue Rhino's Grilling Man Survey also found nearly half (48.5%) of 21- to 34-year-old grilling men have “gone outside in their underwear to check on the grill”; presumably, the survey meant “to check on something cooking on the grill” rather than on the actual grill itself. Somewhat surprisingly, only 9% noted they would rather grill than cook indoors.

Sargento Cheese, a manufacturer of consumer dairy products, conducted a lighthearted poll to get women to identify the grilling style of the men in their lives. Contending “since most men claim the grill as their domain, women often are the best observers of their quirky grilling behaviors,” the 2005 Sargento Grilling Style Poll asked 400 women to classify their favorite male as one of the following grillers:

* Master and Commander: He knows what he's doing and has it all under control.

* Crash and Burn: His spirit is willing, but his technique needs help.

* Gadget Griller: He does not care what he cooks, as long as he has all the gadgets.

* I'm Only in It for the Beer: As long as he has a beverage, everything is okay at the grill.

For 61% of the women, their favorite guy (be it husband, father, boyfriend or other male friend) fits in the Master and Commander territory. Sadly, 15% of the women have to suffer through the Crash and Burn griller; maybe even worse, 7% endure foods grilled by a cook “only in it for the beer.” Around 6% reported their guy fits the Gadget Griller criteria.