Help! Grocery store still overwhelming to men

CHICAGO Sun May 27, 2007 10:04am EDT

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - So, this guy walked into a grocery store ... and got completely overwhelmed.

U.S. men are doing more and more grocery shopping, both for themselves and their families, but retailers are still not doing much to make the trip any more enticing, retail consultants and industry experts said.

"Men do represent a large part of grocery shopping dollars and they aren't being very well accommodated ... sales are being lost," Mandy Putnam, vice president at consulting firm TNS Retail Forward said.

In a recent report titled "Men in Grocery Stores," Putnam said that men shop inefficiently, which leads to missed sales for retailers.

Many men have difficulty finding items, forego buying rather than risk purchasing a substitute for an item on the grocery list and hesitate to ask for help if they can't find an item, Putnam said in her report.

"They never ask for help, except maybe from the butcher, but they always say they never had problems finding anything when the cashier at the register asks," she said.

LESS TRADITION

In 2002, 41 percent of men said they did at least some grocery shopping, a figure that jumped to 61 percent in 2004, according to marketing consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail.

The 2006 survey showed 71 percent of men said they had shopped in a grocery store in the past three months, with 56 percent saying they shopped there in the past week, though WSL changed its method for conducting the survey, so 2006 and 2004 figures are not directly comparable.

Men marrying later, the rise of households where both husband and wife work, and other factors, have led to more men grocery shopping.

"Only one-quarter of American households fall into the old definition of traditional," Michael Sansolo, senior vice president at the Food Marketing Institute, a trade group for food retailers and wholesalers.

Unlike women, male shoppers typically focus more on convenience than price, and retailers will need to cater to that need in order to attract them to their stores, consultants said.

"The stage is just set for men to assume (more) grocery shopping, but it's going to be a much more convenient and efficient trip than a women's approach," Candace Corlett, a principal at WSL said.

One example of a tool to help with efficiency is the Shopping Buddy, a wireless computer on shopping carts at Ahold NV's Stop & Shop stores in the Northeast that alerts shoppers to certain items they might want, among other features, using information from shopper loyalty cards, consultants said.

The desire for convenience also make men a prime target for the Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market stores British retailer Tesco Plc. plans to open this year in California, Arizona and Nevada, said Ken Harris, principal at consulting firm Cannondale Associates.

TUNNEL VISION

Unlike women, men tend to hone in on the specific thing they want to buy instead of surveying the entire aisle, consultants said. That can be a problem for manufacturers and retailers trying to promote new products that are the life-blood of packaged food companies.

"They were great at picking out the stuff that they bought before. It's the new stuff, or something new and different that a manufacturer is trying to promote, that they have trouble with," said Putnam, who walked along with men as they shopped as part of her study.

Men also tend to bristle at the overwhelming number of choices in grocery aisles, with the cereal aisle being one prime example, Putnam said.

"One guy I thought was going to have a nervous breakdown in the cereal aisle," Putnam said, adding that this man, in his early 30s, worked the night shift as a police officer in a dicey part of town and was otherwise used to stressful situations.

Retailers still refer to their main customer as "she," with women still doing the majority of the family shopping, so a major overhaul of stores to make them more attractive to men is not likely.

But food retailers in general are focusing more and more on segmentation -- tailoring store offerings to shoppers most likely to shop there or that they want to attract. This strategy could attract more male shoppers.

"If you are in a location where you have urban professional males, you are going to have a lot of Gatorade in there," Harris said.

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