The rise of the shopper dad

The rise of the shopper dad

June 15–It’s Tuesday night, and Gerry Schor of Irvine and his 7-year-old daughter, Madison, stop by Ralphs for their weekly shopping trip.

They methodically cruise each aisle, filling up their respective shopping carts as Madison cajoles her dad to buy Hello Kitty popsicles. In the cheese section, Schor stops to check the shopping list on his iPhone.

“We forgot broccoli!” he says. So they double back to the produce section, where Madison picks out broccoli heads and places them in a plastic bag that her father holds open.

Schor is among the growing number of dads nationwide who have become the primary household shoppers for their families. Their ranks include both working fathers and stay-at-home dads.

The grocery industry has caught on to the shift but still is trying to figure out how to target dads and their shopping habits, says Byron Calamese, vice president at Cone Communications, a marketing company in New York. At the same time, Calamese said, some dads say they want respect as consumers and not to be viewed as bumblers in the supermarket who need special attention.

A Cone 2012 survey of 1,000 adults who have children 17 years old and younger showed that more than half of dads say they are responsible for grocery purchasing decisions.

The shifting demographics of grocery shoppers are part of a broader change in gender roles and tasks in American families.

“On the homefront, fathers today spend more than twice as much time doing housework as they did in the 1960s (10 hours vs. four hours per week), and mothers have cut their housework time almost in half during the same period (18 hours vs. 32 hours per week),” according to a recent report on modern parenthood from the nonprofit Pew Research Center.

Calamese cites several factors fueling the rise of the supermarket-shopping dad: More moms have become the primary breadwinners in recent years. Many fathers lost jobs during the recession, picking up more household duties as they looked for work. In addition, younger millennial and Gen X dads often are more comfortable than previous generations with tasks that traditionally fell to women.

Studies note at least one key difference between parents in the grocery aisles: Dads often are more willing to research product information and use digital tools along the way.

Schor, 43, works as a national projects coordinator for Altmans Products. His wife, Tracie, is vice president of sales at Kid Brands Inc.

Schor says he has always cooked the meals for his wife and continued after the births of Madison and Ashley, who is 18 months old.

But when Schor got laid off from his previous job in 2009, he took on most of the household duties, including grocery shopping. “The supermarket became my domain,” Schor says.

It was an easy transition, he says. As a child, he loved to go to the grocery store with his mom. “Now, it’s me and Madison.”

Schor says he occasionally sees other dads shopping with their kids, but that most of the parent shoppers he encounters are women. Although he has landed a new job, the supermarket shopping duty remains his responsibility.

He’s got it down to a routine. His wife makes a list on paper, which he copies and puts on his iPhone.

“I will hit the deli first, order roast beef and turkey,” Schor says. “During the time that they’re cutting the meat, I’m getting fruits and vegetables and other groceries. I know where I am going. I try to see how much I can accomplish in as short a time as possible. I don’t look at the ingredients — that’s something Tracie likes to do. I do have some brand loyalty for certain things.”

In a recent study, Chapman University researchers Gokcen Coskuner-Balli and Craig J. Thompson explored how stay-at-home fathers approach shopping. “At-home fathers embrace the idea that they are providing economic value to the household by being thrift shoppers who scour the marketplace for good deals, whether for toys or daily groceries,” the authors wrote. The study was published this month in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Some fathers didn’t compare prices when they first took on the shopping responsibilities, according to the researchers. But eventually, the dads learned that to save money at the grocery store, they had to create a menu, plan ahead and seek out lower prices.

As grocery stores go, Calamese says some retailers do a better job than others of creating an environment hospitable to dads — and men, in general. Whole Foods Market, for example, provides information in signage or printed information in the store, which helps customers make choices.

“Have you been to a Whole Foods Market? There are always a lot of men shopping there,” Calamese says.

Stores such as Walgreens and Walmart and manufacturers such as Procter Gamble are experimenting with a “man aisle,” a corridor with goods tailored to men, Calamese says, but the idea has yet to gather traction.

“Retailers are constantly searching for a marketing edge, a gimmick, anything they can sink their teeth into that’s designed to appeal to an under-tapped segment of society,” said Tod Marks, resident shopping expert at Consumer Reports. “If men are increasingly staying at home, raising the kids, doing the shopping, while mom is bringing home the bacon — or a bigger chunk of it — they are going to do whatever researchers suggest is an effective tool to reel in those people.

“There is no significant trend in tailoring mainstream, all-purpose stores to ‘daddy shoppers’ even though the demographics suggest more and more men have been increasingly taking on the role of primary shopper. It’s too soon to tell how — and if — this evolution will meaningfully alter store design and marketing tactics.”

The reality is that moms and dads have much more in common with shopping habits and preferences than they do differences, Calamese says. But dads don’t get enough respect when ads portray them as Rodney Dangerfield-types inept at changing diapers, he says. A better strategy for makers of grocery brands is to depict dads as “being in tune with the family life.”

Schor says supermarkets can start with the simple things to make stores father-friendly, such as offering dads the same kind of help provided to moms. Never assume, he says, that dads don’t need a hand carrying out lots of bags filled with groceries — especially when they have their kids in tow.

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