Although men have been doing more household shopping for years, since the onset of the recession, they've been hitting the aisles in greater numbers.
Stores and manufacturers are paying closer attention to their shopping preferences.
"We're seeing a lot of men who are stay-at-home dads, working from home or looking for a job," said Phil Lempert, an industry analyst and consultant for ConAgra Foods. "That's changed everything."
Earlier this year, Schnuck Markets released consumer research showing that 6 percent more men have become their household's primary shopper compared to five years ago. That research echoes national studies. A recent ESPN study found 31 percent of grocery shopping is being done by men, up from about 14 percent in the 1980s.
Some chains, including Target and Wal-Mart, have discussed launching "man aisles." One small chain in New York City has taken the concept to something of an extreme, stocking end caps the displays at the ends of the aisles with man-centric items.
"We came across the ESPN study that showed the drastic increase in men shopping," said Ian Joskowitz, chief operating officer of New York-based Westside Market. "We figured: What can we do to cater to these guys? And we figured we'd make a little section for men, with beer, hot sauce, batteries, Doritos, beef jerky, Slim Jims."
The way men grocery shop is also changing. It used to be that men did the "fill-in" shopping, after being dispatched to the store to get a few last-minute items. Now they're doing the menu-planning, making lists and filling up the cart.
The recession may explain the trend, as men have been disproportionately laid off.
"We've seen higher levels of unemployment among men men who are in construction or trade jobs and it's clamping down on their money," said Darren Tristano, of Chicago-based market research firm Technomic. "The additional time they have is spent focusing on how to reduce spending. In many households where women are the breadwinners, men are forced to do the shopping."
But more men are also shopping by choice, largely because more are cooking at home.
"We've got a big trend in the culture. Just like people go to games, now they're going to dinner parties. They cook meals for each other," said Crystal Merritt of St. Louis advertising agency Rodgers Townsend. "It's cool to be a guy who cooks, and that's what's getting them into the food aisle."
Manufacturers and marketers are now positioning products to appeal to men or, rather, to avoid pushing them away.
"If you're overly positioning to women, then a 20-something guy who likes to cook for his girlfriend, he's going to be less engaged with it," Merritt said.
Now manufacturers are packaging items in more gender-neutral ways or, in some cases, packaging gender-neutral items for men.
"We've talked to a lot of retailers who are trying to understand what to do, trying to understand what a 'man aisle' truly is," Lempert said. "It's really more about understanding men's health and nutritional needs than putting out lighter fluid and beer. If you look at the canned tomato section, you're seeing information about how lycopene is important to ward off prostate cancer."
"It's a trend we're watching. The family dynamic has changed over the years," said Marlene Gebhard, president of Kirkwood, Mo.-based Shop 'n Save, a unit of Supervalu Inc. "It's become one of those tasks on the household to-do list that doesn't fall to the female. It falls to whoever has the time."
Women still do the bulk of the grocery shopping, which means grocery stores are still working to keep their business.
About a year ago, Shop 'n Save began stocking an in-house private label line called "Essential Everyday" that was intentionally packaged to appeal to men and women.
"It used to be they wanted to attract a child, or a female," Gebhard said. "Now they're doing a lot of gender-neutral packaging to appeal to everyone."