Iowans Have Aisle Insights

By Kelly Visser, Iowa Food & Family Project

The Iowa Food & Family Project’s annual consumer survey shows that grocery shoppers are fans of farmers and mistrust food marketing.

If you spend a little time on social media or perusing flashy magazine ads, it seems that grocery shoppers are falling victim to trends, fads and lack of fact-based information, ready to pull out their pocketbooks for catchy marketing and little substance.

But according to the Iowa Food & Family Project’s (Iowa FFP) latest Consumer Pulse Survey, that doesn’t hold true for Iowans.

Results show grocery shoppers across the state are growing savvier to misleading food marketing. These shoppers trust farmers to grow and raise food with care and are more hesitant to let buzzworthy trends dictate their buying decisions.

Now in its eighth year, the survey gauges grocery shopping habits, food label influence and attitudes toward agriculture. Year-over-year findings not only give a pulse on perceptions but also help shape information-sharing through Iowa FFP content, events and activities.

For Pat Swanson, a soybean and corn farmer from Ottumwa who also raises beef, the results help cut through the marketing clutter and misinformation.

“The findings are actionable and Iowa specific,” says Swanson, who serves as a director for the Iowa Soybean Association. “Rather than being overwhelmed with the constant stream of confusion and misinformation that’s in the media, hearing directly from Iowa grocery shoppers helps me focus on what I can share as a farmer to help improve their understanding and perception of today’s food system.”

The November 2019 survey had 597 responses and 307 were engaged with Iowa FFP as monthly Fresh Pickings eNewsletter subscribers. Respondents’ age groups, income levels, education levels and geographic regions closely follow the state’s population, resulting in a 4% margin of error.

Blue Compass, a digital marketing agency in West Des Moines, conducted the survey analysis from data collected through Dynata’s business-to-consumer panel.

Three Key Aisle Insights

Mistrust in Food Marketing

  • Half of shoppers seek information on front-of-package food marketing (call outs like “organic,” “hormone-free” or “all natural”), 83% find food marketing misleading.
  • The influence of front-of-packaging is taking a hit, with the purchase influence dropping from 32% in 2016 to 19% today.

  • When it comes down to it, quality and price top the list as the most important food purchasing factors.

Bucking the Trend

  • Almost 9 in 10 shoppers agree they are unlikely to replace meat with imitation meat for any given meal.
  • Only 3% of food purchasers shop for groceries online.

Fans of Farmers

  • 78% of shoppers are satisfied with Iowa agriculture.
  • Iowa FFP subscribers were significantly more likely than non-subscribers to be “very satisfied” with Iowa agriculture, 50% versus 35%, respectively.

  • Three-quarters of food-minded consumers give farmers an excellent or good rating for producing safe foods, contributing to the local economy and raising healthy animals with care.

Growing Trust

Half of shoppers reported being familiar with Iowa FFP, a 15% increase from 2016. Twelve percent reported being “very familiar” in 2019, a 10% increase from 2016.

The ag awareness initiative reaches nearly 130,000 followers each month through its magazine, eNewsletter, website and social media channels. This is roughly equivalent to the combined populations of Altoona, Cedar Falls and Dubuque.

When asked about the trustworthiness of Iowa FFP as a source of information, three out of four rated the initiative as “very trustworthy” with 90% rating it as trustworthy.

“It’s clear Iowa Food & Family Project is making impacts, living out its vision to grow ag awareness and build consumer confidence in modern farming,” Swanson says.

Iowa FFP invites Iowans to explore how food is grown around the state and meet the farmers who make it happen; 24/7, 365 days a year. The initiative works with a collaborative network of more than 35 food, farming and healthy living organizations who are proud of Iowa’s homegrown foods and hometown values.