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More men pushing carts down supermarket aisles

David Harris shops for the family at Whole Foods in Arlington.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

David Harris shops for the family at Whole Foods in Arlington.

Friday nights were sacred in young Evan Weymouth’s family home in Maine. His father attended the high school football games, and Evan went to the grocery store with his mother.

“My mom, I remember, would take me every Friday, like religion,” says Weymouth. “Then I’d come home and watch T.G.I.F.” — ABC’s family-
oriented, Friday evening lineup.

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It’s a dusky Tuesday evening, and Weymouth, 29, has just finished a quick spin through a Market Basket in Seabrook, N.H., with his 3-year-old daughter. As he loads the half-full plastic bags in the car, Adelynn dances around the shopping cart, the lights in the soles of her pink sneakers flashing.

Weymouth’s own father would never have offered to do the supermarket errands, he says flatly. His parents are “a bit old-fashioned. That’s just how it was.”

But Weymouth, who restores classic cars for Paul Russell and Co. in Essex, represents a growing percentage of men who are more than willing to shop and prepare meals for their families.

According to a recent report from Midan Marketing, a Chicago marketing company, nearly half of 900 men surveyed said they do at least half of their family’s grocery shopping. Of that group, more than half said they do all of it.

Most grocery industry experts agree that women still do most of the shopping. While the numbers vary somewhat, the Midan survey is just the latest in a series of reports in recent years that have found that men are taking a greater role in buying groceries.

‘My wife will walk through the store and see what inspires her. I tend to be much more businesslike about it.’

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That represents a revolution of sorts from the old “Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” days when the man of the house was the breadwinner and the woman baked the bread, says Paco Underhill, author of “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.”

For a long list of reasons, including the growing ranks of stay-at-home dads, the weak economy, the increasing tendency for shared responsibilities in couplehood, and men’s burgeoning interest in cooking, supermarket aisles are filling up with men. And the industry is looking at their buying habits and how to keep them coming back.

“With each passing month, the number of families across the country where the woman is the dominant bread-earner goes up,” says Underhill, a New York-based research consultant who attended Milton Academy. “If you’re a working female under the age of 30, your chances are excellent, in a major city such as Boston, New York, or San Francisco, that you out-earn your male counterpart by somewhere between 15 and 20 percent.”

That explains some of the drift toward more stay-at-home fathers, who naturally assume many of the chores and errands their mothers might have handled. Amid the nation’s economic woes, many men also lost their jobs and found themselves among the ranks of the unemployed or underemployed.

But there are plenty of men in double-income households, who earn as much or more than their wives, who volunteer to do at least some of the grocery shopping simply because they enjoy it.

“I’m happy to do it,” said David Harris, a Berklee professor, as he pulled a plastic bag from the spindle in the produce section of his local Whole Foods in Arlington. “I home-cook 90 percent of our meals. And my wife” — violinist Mimi Rabson, also a Berklee professor — “hates shopping in general.”

Harris, 56, said he takes pride in providing good nutrition for his two children, who are 11 and 17. They’ve never eaten at Burger King, he said, and they don’t feel deprived: “I cook great burgers for them, with organic beef.”

During the week, he said, he gets periodic texts from his wife and kids with suggestions to add to the grocery list. Doing the shopping himself, he also gets to make plenty of choices of his own.

“I’m picky,” he said, smiling. “I get to pick things I love.”

That seems to be a recurring theme among men who shop. According to a recent Consumer Reports study, more women said their husbands are prone to making impulse buys when they shop (44 percent) than men said of their wives (33 percent).

“Women are less likely to be fascinated by something new,” explains Underhill. Historically, he says, women tend to shop with the family in mind more than men, who tend to follow their own urges.

Conversely, while men seem more susceptible to spur-of-the-moment purchases, Underhill says men are more likely to arrive at a store with a plan and stick with it. Men often decline to take a shopping cart, for instance, preferring to grab the half-dozen items they came in for.

There seems to be some disagreement on whether men or women are the more focused shoppers. But Bryan Falchuk said that in his household he is the most efficient. “My wife will walk through the store and see what inspires her,” said Falchuk, who was shopping with his 5-year-old son at the Whole Foods. “I tend to be much more businesslike about it. I enjoy getting things done.”

Retailers and manufacturers have taken notice of the trend and are looking for ways to appeal to men. Some stores have tried “man aisles,’’ stocked with items such as barbecue goods, hot sauces, beer, soda, and chips. Food companies have taken a second look at packaging and planned giveaways of products at man-centric events such as NASCAR races to build brand loyalty.

A spokesperson for Shaw’s said the grocery chain is currently developing policies to better serve male customers.

The Midan study suggests, though, that while there are differences between the way men and women shop, they are not drastic. But men, many of whom are neither accustomed to nor completely comfortable with the task, appear clearly receptive to guidance.

“The big focus for us is on convenient shopping,” said Katie Lamie, marketing team leader of Whole Foods’ Arlington store. “We sell a lot of prepared meals and grab-and-go dinners.” Employees are trained in upscale customer service, she said. If a male shopper asks for help finding the ginger, a clerk might ask whether he would like some advice on how to slice it.

“It’s not so much a taboo anymore for a guy to cook,” said Katerina Thompson, who manages the Crosby’s Markets in Salem and Manchester-by-the-Sea.

“They come and they have recipes on their iPhones.”

They do get lost sometimes. “I had a guy yesterday looking in the dairy section for cream of tartar,” a baking product found in the spice aisle, Thompson said. “Some of them are a little new to this.”

The grocery business is girding itself for some major changes that extend far beyond who’s doing the buying, says Underhill, who is working on a book called “The Future of Food.”

Given the expansion of grocery sections at pharmacies and discounters such as Target and Walmart, as well as the resurgence of an artisan culture that is spawning new specialty stores for bread, cheese, meat, and more, industry observers are seeing a lot more “cherry-picking,” he says.

Soon enough, we might all have delivery services like Amazon systematically restocking our supplies of basics such as paper products and packaged foods, Underhill predicts. That would free us all to pare down our shopping list to “the things that are actually fun to shop for — the right produce or meat or something related to a party.”

If it happens, that could be one thing men and women would agree upon.

James Sullivan can be reached at jamesgsullivan@gmail.com.
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