What's Important to Iowa Grocery Shoppers?

A grocery shopper makes a selection at the meat counter. Photo credit: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association

There’s no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has brought food – how it’s supplied, transported, purchased, prepared and enjoyed – into the limelight. Consumers have adapted their behaviors unlike ever before and have become increasingly aware of how food makes its way from farms to kitchen tables.

The pandemic’s impacts on food-related behaviors and perceptions of today’s food system are on full display in the latest Iowa Food & Family Project (Iowa FFP) Consumer Pulse Survey.

Now in its ninth year, the annual survey gauges Iowan’s grocery shopping habits, food label influence and attitudes toward agriculture. Year-over-year findings not only give a pulse on perceptions but also show how current events shape the behaviors or mindsets of Iowa grocery shoppers.

In addition to the standard benchmarking questions, this year’s survey included a series of open-ended questions directly related to the impacts of COVID-19.

The late-2020 survey of Iowa grocery shoppers had 1,539 responses. Respondents’ age groups, income levels, education levels and geographic regions closely follow the state’s population. Flynn Wright, an advertising agency in Des Moines, conducted the survey analysis from data collected.

Key Consumer Pulse Survey Insights

COVID-19 Impacts

  • 38% of Iowa grocery shoppers indicate they were surprised by the impact COVID-19 had on the food supply chain.
  • Most shoppers cite they felt an impact on the way COVID-19 affected how they purchase, consume and prepare their food. Only 15% reported their behavior was unchanged.

Food Purchase & Preparation

  • 82% of shoppers report purchasing their groceries in-store, down from 97% in 2019.
  • 53% of Iowa FFP subscribers and 33% of the general population are preparing meals from scratch at home at least five nights a week.
  • 62% of shoppers have never purchased meat alternative products, 25% have purchased from a grocery store and 13% from a restaurant. Half of those who have purchased meat-alternative products report perceived health benefits as a motivator.

Photo credit: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association

Grocery Decision-Making Criteria

  • Food quality, price and nutritional value carry the strongest level of importance for grocery decision-making. Dietary restrictions and fit within a diet are the least important criteria.
  • When it comes to label influence in purchase decisions, 69% of shoppers site the nutrition facts panel as “influential” and 65% rank the ingredients list as “influential.”

Words That Matter

  • Shoppers like to see words and phrases like “no high fructose corn syrup,” “all-natural,” and “farm-raised” on food labels.
  • 50% of respondents reported that “organic” and “all-natural” phrases on food labels felt misleading.

A Resource for Iowa Consumers

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 that are proud of Iowa’s homegrown foods and hometown values.

The ag awareness initiative reaches more than 135,000 followers each month through its Fresh Pickings magazine, eNewsletter, website and social media channels.

Do you have a question about how food is grown and raised? We’re happy to get you connected with farmers, foodies and nutrition professionals who have answers. Submit your question.