/ Shopping

Men: know your shopping limits

Are you a man? Are you rubbish at food shopping? A supermarket in New York has decided that you are, so it’s put all the ‘man items’ in one aisle. Excuse me while I step out of my pigeonhole and on to my soapbox…

We’re generally a harmonious bunch at Which? HQ, but a blog I spotted this morning had us all chipping in to a debate.

A New York supermarket has launched a ‘man aisle’, to make shopping easier for men. They’ve grouped all the products that they think men want into one handy section, to save guys from having to wear themselves out wandering round the supermarket.

What exactly is a ‘man product’?

I know quite a few different men, and believe it or not I’d struggle to think of one product that all of them love, or would regularly buy. Because the thing is, all men are different – all people are different. This is something that feminists such as myself have been banging on about for years when it comes to women – we don’t all like baking, we’re not all dressed in pink, and not all of us spend fifty quid a month on beauty products.

So I’m more than a little annoyed that, having grasped the message that women are individuals with unique opinions, we’re now telling men that they’re all the same. You’re a man, right? Well you must like beer, peanuts, crisps, dips and condoms. In fact – that’s basically all you need to buy when you go shopping, right?

In case you thought that list was a little sexist, please forgive me – it’s not my list. The supermarket in question has decided that ‘all the things a good man could need’ include the items mentioned above.

Slugs, snails and puppy dog tails

I know, I know – it’s mostly a bit of fun and publicity for the supermarket. But it’s part of a really irritating trend in marketing to not just make certain products appeal to one gender or another, but to actively limit them to ‘male’ or ‘female’, even if the products can be consumed by anyone.

There are some products that I’d happily say were ‘male’ – deodorant, for instance, is generally gender-tailored, and some razors are specifically designed for men to shave their faces (despite the fact that if they’re on offer, I’ll buy some to do my legs). So I’m not particularly upset by the inclusion of these things.

But apparently the scented candles are for us, and the beer is for you. No matter that you might have opinions and tastes that differ from the stereotype, or that you might (brace yourselves) be shopping not just to fill a small fridge in a bachelor pad but to feed your whole family.

Sugar, spice, and sexist marketing

Yorkie famously boasted that it was ‘not for girls’. McCoy’s still print the words ‘Man Crisps’ on their packets. And I think most worryingly of all, toys are often still sold as ‘boys’ toys’ and ‘girls’ toys’, giving girls the chance to dress dolls in frilly pink tutus while boys get busy with toy cars and chemistry sets.

I’m the first to complain about women being stereotyped. And indeed in the last six months I’ve moaned about displays of baking equipment in shop windows under the heading ‘something for the girls’, or invitations to ‘treat Mum this Mother’s day with a relaxing massage’ while Dads are offered track days in the latest sports car.

But it’s important to be equal – if we’d make a fuss about a pink-painted ‘women’s aisle’ with moisturisers, cupcakes and glitter, let’s make a fuss for the men too. Gentlemen –your ‘manliness’ is determined by who you are, not what you buy.

Would you like to see 'man aisles' in supermarkets?

No - I think it's a terrible idea (71%, 172 Votes)

Maybe - only if there's also a 'woman aisle' (16%, 39 Votes)

Yes - I think it's a good idea (13%, 31 Votes)

Total Voters: 249

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I think the evidence is there that men are very good at finding the goods that they want to eat or play with, never mind what obscure corner of the store it’s shelved in; it’s the rest of the shopping that has them beaten. I’ve been saying for years that we need the stock [eg cereals,canned fruit] arranged in alphabetical order.

Recently the list I was given contained “SP Onion” – now is that Spanish, Spring, Special, Small Pack, or Soup? No wonder we’re rubbish at shopping and prefer to drift around with the cart somewhere near Wonderwoman [but not too close in case a question springs to mind – like “what do you want for dinner?”].

I have often felt that the people who create the product descriptions used on supermarket receipts could do with some education. Recently I had two varieties of smoked salmon described as meat on a Tesco receipt.


I make a shopping list – I go to the supermarket and shops at the mall – select and pay for the items – go home and use them – Not rocket science – though I was a rocket scientist (Blue Streak) 🙂 However what DOES annoy me is when the supermarket decides to move the items seemingly randomly so I spend an inordinate amount of time finding the new place they’ve put them. Though I now use the Internet more as sometimes finding an particular item in local shops is impossible – Ex I spent a lot of three shopping days fruitlessly trying to find and buy a particular size and type of plastic jug.- looked it up on the Net – took 15 minutes to find exactly what I wanted – delivered next day – so I no longer do long searches in local shops

I don’t know whether to groan at this ridiculous yet unsurprising concept, or get angry at the blatant perpetuation of the “bloke” stereotype. As the male member of a feminist couple, this irritates me sooooo much as it adds nothing to the campaign for gender equality. I think my biggest annoyance is that it just reinforces the stereotype that men are useless at/have no interest in shopping, which will only perpetuate as this story gets more news coverage.

I do nearly all the grocery shopping in my household and know my way around the supermarkets much better than my girlfriend. This partly comes from spending my 20s working in food retail but is also helped by the fact that I do it every week. It’s really not that hard to find stuff and the more you visit stores and look for items, then the more locations you remember for next time. And I don’t buy the argument about stores moving sections around being part of this debate about sexism. This has nothing to do with a “Man’s Aisle”, and more to do with people’s lack of effort in actually looking for products in a store, or asking for some help.

I am also concerned by John Ward’s comment “it’s the rest of the shopping that has them beaten” . What are you trying to imply here John, that men are mentally deficient when compared to women in the “looking with your eyes and using your brain to find grocery items” stakes? I also hope that your second paragraph is said in jest, because your claim “no wonder we’re rubbish at shopping and prefer to drift around” certainly does not apply to me, or the other men that I see quite capably shopping in Tesco Lewisham on a Sunday morning.


I dispute your “more to do with people’s lack of effort in actually looking for products in a store, or asking for some help” charge. The problem with my local supermarket is it moves products around – which means that they are NOT where they have been for the last year or so – often moved several aisles away. So first I go to where it was LAST week – not there – I then search uselessly in the immediate vicinity – not there – I could go on a “square search” until I locate the new position – but frankly shopping is not my ultimate entertainment – so I then go and find an assistant (they are hard to find) who MAY be able to direct me to the new place. They often don’t know and go to find a manager (also often hidden away) Now if they had an “item finder” computer handy I could simply input the item and have it’s position highlighted – but they don’t . The supermarket was initially designed so that a shopper (of any sex) could purchase items faster than waiting for assistance in an “ordinary” shop – Now as the supermarket has become larger – the problem of finding a particular product has become more difficult – exacerbated by supermarkets moving products for their own reasons (often for marketing purposes).

I think you may have hit upon the answer there. Men in my experience don’t stop to ask for directions when driving. They just keep on going. When you say “Slow down there’s a roadsign/junction coming up” they don’t. Perhaps it is the same thing here.

If there aren’t any chives will a man come back with spring onions having thought what might possibly work as an alternative? Or just walk out of the shop (and not bring the list with remaining outstanding items on it back)?

I think the ‘man aisle’ is better suited to me – I’m the beer drinker, the crisp eater. If I lose my boyfriend in the supermarket I usually find him at the fresh fish counter or in the fruit aisle. Just goes to show you can’t classify general products as male or female purchases.

A Real Man says:
31 July 2012

Wow, this new aisle will be amazing for a real man like me.

I sometimes spend hours walking around getting lost in the supermarket trying to find my way from the condoms to the dips whilst eating crisps on my way. How awesome that it’ll all be together now. I often wonder what all the other stuff in the supermarket is for but I assume it’s just for women to buy. Sauces and spices and tins of food? WTF? To be honest, as a man, I wouldn’t know what to do with that stuff.

I once embraced my inner feminism by venturing into a different isle at the supermarket in which I bought some mashed potato. Alas, when I got it home it was just a packet of weird cream-coloured powder. What was I supposed to do with that? I vowed there and then that I needed a male aisle and I washed my vow down with a beer and some peanuts and have been happily male ever since….

Surprised you didn’t simply opt for a slice of Quiche, but then of course, Real Men don’t eat Q…

I remember quiche. A celebration in soggy pastry, unless freshly baked. I had not appreciated the gender issue, John, though I don’t buy or bake quiche.

Melissa says:
31 July 2012

Great article, Nicola! It reminds me of this awful commercial we have for Dr. Pepper Ten, where men ride around doing “manly” things, then drink a diet soda that brazenly asserts “Not for Women”. Here’s an article on it, and a link to the commercial: http://consumerist.com/2011/10/dr-pepper-introduces-variation-just-for-men.html . I absolutely agree with you: it’s enough to be up in arms over advertisements and campaigns that are sexist towards women. Men with different tastes deserve to be validated as well.

Kirstos says:
31 July 2012

Does this mean that women are now no longer permitted to buy, “beer, peanuts, crisps, dips and condoms”? Fantastic – soon I’ll be thin (and also likely pregnant).

I wish they’d mark aisles to discuss your life history so I can avoid them. As I always seem to be behind someone who has nothing better to do.

I really enjoy shopping in the supermarkets when women with prams / trolleys stop for a good old natter in the bread aisle. Coz’ nobody ever wants to buy bread, right.

In our house, my partner and I share duties and shopping is one of hers. I never have to go to a supermarket, ever. I love her so much 🙂

I agree with most of Nikki’s comments though, it seems that in the world of marketing anything is fair game. But as a man I don’t particularly find it offensive as there is generally no smoke without fire. Overall (there are quite a lot of us) men are pretty simple and perhaps I’m in the demographic that they are exploiting. Maybe men just pop into supermarkets for a snack when they absolutely have to, whereas women do the full shop?

I have no idea how they decide what to put in that aisle though as one mans snack is another mans rabbit food

Well done Dean. Spare a thought for all the single men (and women) who have no choice but to do the shopping.

Didn’t Which? do a survey years ago which revealed that men tend to know exactly what they want at a supermarket, and rush around grabbing them without giving other items a second glance, whereas women tend to survey other produce as they wander around the isles and therefore make more impulse purchases?

Maybe the ‘man aisle’ is an attempt to get men to browse more.

Aldi and Lidl have been doing this for ages DIY and electronics constantly changing them while ASDA Keep the same products.Shopping its a womans thing they love to isle block chatting to friends while most men who have to shop like me regard it as a chore a quick dash round Aldi Job done.All the supermarkets seem quite good maybe Morrisons at getting through the checkouts.The Post-OFFICE is appalling long ques only 2 or 3 serving when they have many empty service hatches the other day it was 30mins before i was served.Friday afternoon Stretford shopping Mall Post-office in W.H.Smiths just before Xmas only1 person serving no wonder Britain has so many unemployed.

This seems like a fuss about nothing. I have more important things to worry about. The point about moving the location of products is a fair one: I have walking difficulties, and finding the new location can be tedious. Assuming that the intention is to expose you to other products. If I have this happen I simply resist making any unplanned impulse purchases.
On occasion I have summoned a manager and made my displeasure clear at the re-siting of products. The usual explanation is that Head Office dictate such things. In that case I tell him to record the complaint and pass it on to the decision maker. I only dimly remember one reply. It was vague. In fact just the sort of reply I used to draft to complaints – e.g. ” I am sorry that your perception was that you were dealt with rudely. I can assure you that it is never our intention etc etc.”

Nearly four years on from when this Conversation started I wonder what became of the ‘man aisle’. Did it just fade away as another marketing gimmick? I have certainly seen no examples of it in the UK.

It has raised the question of stock positioning and merchandising. Although we get most of our groceries from Sainsbury’s by ordering on-line, we do most of our top-up shopping in a large Tesco’s within walking distance so I am more familiar with the layout there than in Sainsbury’s. I have noticed lately that Tesco are frequently shuffling the goods around, sometimes even into different aisles, as they cope with two things: first, the food and provisions manufacturers are coming up with a lot of new formats these days in order to disguise the shrinking contents or higher prices of their products [as detailed extensively in other Conversations] and this all seems to require a different approach to merchandising as packet shapes and sizes change; second, Tesco appear to be de-listing a wide range of products so that sometimes there is a reduction in the number of branded goods available, sometimes there is no alternative to an own-label product, and many smaller sizes or individual containers have been abandoned in favour of family packs or bulk packages. Alongside this, and as a consequence, space has been found for more lines that are higher-margin, heavily advertised or promoted in the media, or currently trendy; an example of this is the tea and coffee aisle where coffee in its multitudinous forms now occupies a mileage of shelving with capsule varieties centre stage. I don’t know whether the other major supermarkets are doing the same, but I can understand the appeal of stores like Aldi and Lidl which present a much simpler offering and a straightforward up-&-down route through the shop.