Is meat manly? Is salad feminine? Is there anything about beer that actually makes it more manly than wine? Your answer may be no, but today, unhealthy eating habits and foods (think fries and nachos) are still associated with masculinity while healthy eating habits and foods (think salad and organic food) are associated with femininity. Earlier this week when I was ordering food for a meeting and learned a few more women were joining I actually said we needed more salads. What’s behind this thinking?

We’re constantly bombarded with advertising and social messaging telling us that eating like a bird is feminine while eating large portions of things like red meat is manly. These representations of female and male eating habits may seem outdated, but research shows they persist for many. Studies have found that if you subscribe to the traditional mindset of masculinity, you”ll think of eating large meat portions as a marker of it because it reflects traditional portions of power.

Consumers actually prefer healthy food in feminine packaging and unhealthy food in masculine packaging. If you violate the stereotype and put an unhealthy food in a feminine branding, consumers literally will not choose that product. They are also more likely to eat food when they associate it with qualities they’d like to see in themselves. Even in these so-called modern times, anxieties about gender roles continue to play themselves out in our food choices.

This psychology has always been important for brands but is even more important now that men are increasingly doing more of the household shopping. A study found that 55% of primary household shoppers are women, while 45% are men. The Hartman Group found the male percentage of primary food shoppers jumped 2% in just the 3 years between their survey. Men are even making as many monthly store visits as women. But there are a few things that separate the genders. 61% of women take inventory and plan for their shopping trips while only 51% of men do, but women are also more likely to browse aisles, while men tend to go in and out only picking up what they need.

Some brands, like Dannon, have been trying to make their products that have previously only appealed to women attractive to male grocery shoppers as well. Their Oikos Greek yogurt now comes in a short blue package and promotes the yogurt’s high protein content to give it a gender-neutral appeal. And their ads point out that the protein in yogurt can be a smart alternative to a burger or grilled chicken breast.

While men are doing more shopping in general, it doesn’t just apply to food, and when they shop they are looking for things that have a specific function. This  Men’s Journal article does a great job explaining the benefits of healthy foods in terms of protein content and how they can help readers get the muscles they always wanted. Another great example outside of food is a Dyson Vacuum. In an effort to appeal to male consumers, Dyson focused on creating powerful suction and a design that turned their vacuum into a power tool. Performance helps men feel that their choices have specific benefits like being efficient, powerful, or technologically advanced.

As more men do the physical act of shopping and choosing brands, an incredible opportunity is being created for brands to go after the male consumer in a new way. But we also have to remember that although men are in the stores, traditional gender stereotypes still play a big role in what men choose to buy once they get there.

If you want help figuring out how to position your brand to the growing population of male shoppers, Let’s talk.

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