Men in supermarkets

Friday, 28. July 2017 - 11:15

Interior of Spar by Tiia Monto/Wiki Commons

The time has come to think about men and shopping.

The wine trade is a slow beast, which needs plenty of prodding before it changes direction. When it comes to gender, the trade has been particularly slow to adapt to changing social mores: it’s still common to hear people worry about how to bring more women into wine, because they haven’t noticed that the majority of wine buyers are, in fact, women.

One reason for this is that most of the buying is going on in supermarkets, rather than in upscale wine stores and restaurants. Women, as they do the grocery shopping, are picking up the mass-market brands and private label wines that represent the majority of the world’s vinous output. These wines rarely turn up in wine magazines, or have big scores next to their names, and so are not taken seriously.

This has led to the wine trade over-estimating how many men are engaged with wine, and under-estimating how many women are.

Understanding what people are actually buying is important, because there are differences in the tastes and buying habits of men and women. Men have a greater preference for sweet beverages, particularly the younger they are, for example, while women are more sensitive to alcohol levels and less likely to buy wine for the sake of status. American sommeliers have even coined an unpleasant term for women who talk their male partners out of buying very expensive labels – “cork blockers”.

As reported in this magazine, some of the big wine companies have begun to adapt to male tastes, by creating value-priced wines that are higher in alcohol and residual sugar, and which have hyper-masculine names like ‘Carnivor’.

Now, an even newer and better opportunity to reach men has just reared its head. The Washington Post is reporting that US supermarkets are scrambling to adjust to their new male customers. Surveys are showing that up to 49% of all US households have a man doing the grocery shopping. There are plenty of reasons for this, from the rise of single male households, to changing gender roles, to a growing interest in food and cooking. Although the article confines itself to the US, these same demographic trends are showing up elsewhere, so there’s a strong chance that more men are hitting the supermarkets in other countries as well.

But the way they shop is different. David W. Stewart, a marketing professor at Loyola Marymount University is quoted as saying: “Men are not terribly strategic. They walk in and buy what they remember is needed. They’re buying for right now, or maybe tonight. Anything beyond that is too long-term.”

Paco Underhill, chief executive of Envirosell, a New York behavioral research firm, agreed. “Men tend to be hunters: They want to kill something quickly, drag it out and feel successful,” he told the paper. “Women, though, they’re thinking ahead and planning accordingly.”

Not only that, but men are more likely to buy eye-catching products and pricier cuts of meat. As sommeliers will no doubt agree, status and recognizable brand names are more important to male shoppers. Finally, men get frustrated more quickly, and so need shopping items grouped together: sauces next to meats, for example.

This is a huge opportunity for the wine industry. Higher alcohol red wines with high-status labels and a price tag that’s higher than the wines around them, have great supermarket potential.  And if the producer can negotiate a place for the wine next to the meat cabinet, they’ll have a product that will walk out the door.
Felicity Carter