In the race to attract consumers, major American food companies are tweaking their playbooks to go after a once-ignored group: men.
Men are now the primary grocery shoppers in about four in 10 households. But men, food companies have found, have their own priorities. They often do not look closely at prices or carry a coupon book. They want to get in and out of the store quickly. Men are also more likely to be enticed by bold flavors and high-protein meals, companies have found.
Just as retailers have made efforts to reach a wider, more diverse audience of shoppers — including a larger Hispanic population and millennial-generation consumers with more adventurous tastes — men too have become a bigger priority.
“We always thought that if we speak to the gal, we’ll eventually get to the guy because she’ll bring the hot dogs into the household, and the household will consume,” said Kristin Kroepfl, director of marketing for Ball Park. But in the past year, Kroepfl says, they’ve started reaching out to male consumers more directly, “in a voice that’s bold and confident and a little bit more manly than we’ve been in the past.”
In their campaign to reach men, many food companies are pushing boundaries. Kraft Foods recently began featuring men in TV commercials for its Jell-O, Velveeta and Miracle Whip brands, products it historically marketed largely to women.
In a new Miracle Whip ad, an everyman is shown in his kitchen mixing up a Miracle Whip-based artichoke dip. To the sound of throbbing electric guitars, he swaggers to a friend’s backyard party and proudly rips the plastic wrap off his dish. A low, husky voice-over declares, “If you’re going to bring the artichoke dip, bring the frigging artichoke dip.”
Diane Tielbur, Kraft’s senior director of consumer insights, said its customer research has shown that men are cooking and shopping in greater numbers and that the ads are part of an effort to reach them.
Industry analysts and food companies say a variety of factors are bringing today’s men into the supermarket: Because women are 47 percent of the labor force, the division of all manner of household chores is being reconfigured in many two-parent families. Meanwhile, nontraditional households consisting of single people or roommates are growing at a faster clip than traditional ones.
During a recent shopping trip at Yes Organic Market in Petworth, District resident John Pollock said he and his wife split the grocery shopping about fifty-fifty, as they do with many household responsibilities.
Each night, Pollock said, “One does baby, bath, bed. And one does dinner.”
And Pollock, 48, said that while he was keeping it simple that night, picking up a couple of bottles of Chianti and a pizza, it’s not unusual for him to do more elaborate cooking and shopping. “I can make a heck of a flank steak,” he said.
The influx of men at grocery stores is difficult to measure. Market research firm NPD Group recently found that men are the primary grocery shoppers in 41 percent of U.S. households. It had not asked the question in previous surveys. But some food companies say internal research indicates that men are increasingly doing the grocery shopping.
In some cases they have responded by introducing new flavors.
Kraft updated some products this year to make them palatable to millennial men, adding a Hot Habanero flavor of sliced cheese and a Chipotle flavor of its Planters peanuts. Campbell’s has added a Beer-n-Cheese with Beef & Bacon flavor Chunky soup to appeal to the bold tastes the company says it has found men prefer.
Earlier this year, Ball Park launched Park’s Finest, a new line of premium hot dogs that includes strong flavors such as Cracked Dijon Mustard and Slow Smoked Hickory. The company has dubbed its target customer the “the grill-master guy,” a confident, savvy chef who takes great pride in his skills behind the grill.
As part of those efforts, Ball Park has launched a nationwide grilling contest, encouraging customers to post photos on Instagram showing why they are “America’s Finest Grill Master.” The winner will get a trailer equipped with two grills, beer taps, and a stereo system.
Dannon is also taking an aggressive approach to what it sees as a growing market. It has developed ads targeting men, noting that the protein in yogurt can be an alternative to a burger or grilled chicken breast. Dannon’s Oikos brand of Greek yogurt now comes in blue packaging and a short, wide cup to give it gender-neutral appeal.
“It comes back to proteins and Americans’ association with strength-building,” said Michael Neuwirth, Dannon’s senior director of public relations. “That is, I would say, firstly male, but not exclusively male.”
The company is not stopping there. It will become a National Football League sponsor for the first time in 2015.
Some food companies are focusing on appealing to men’s desire for convenience. Kraft Foods is offering men the promise of convenience with its new Oscar Mayer P3 Portable Protein Pack—a tray of meat, cheese and nuts.
Campbell has noticed that its Skillet Sauces, which promise a weeknight meal in 15 minutes, have attracted a “prominent” share of male buyers. Consumers just add meat and serve over pasta or rice, a simple format that made it a popular option for a man who wants to cook for his family.
“Modern males aren’t constrained by traditional role definitions,” said Charles Vila, vice president of consumer and customer insights at Campbell North America. “They want to be much more to their families, and they’re very proud to be much more.”