Grocery shoppers find food labels misleading, annual survey reveals

Label fatigue and overall satisfaction with Iowa agriculture highlighted in results

Ankeny, Iowa — Are food marketers and packagers overplaying their hand, confusing consumers and causing label fatigue? A survey of Iowans who make the majority of their household’s food purchases suggests they are.

Eight in 10 Iowans find food labels misleading, according to the seventh annual Iowa Food & Family Project (Iowa FFP) Consumer Pulse Survey conducted among households’ primary food buyers. Fifty-five percent report label attributes such as “organic” or “all natural” have little to no influence on purchase decisions.

“It appears that shoppers are becoming increasingly indifferent to the flashy claims food marketers are using, especially those rooted in misinformation,” says Aaron Putze, Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) director of communications and external relations. “Twenty-two percent said they don’t seek out information on food labels at all.”

Of the 676 respondents – the most ever in the survey’s history – 295 were engaged with the Iowa FFP as subscribers to its monthly newsletter. Age groups, income, education and geographic regions closely followed the state’s population, resulting in a low margin of error at 3.79 percent.

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

In addition to label influence, the survey takes the pulse of Iowans’ attitudes toward farming. Eighty-three percent of Iowans have a positive opinion of farming in Iowa. Sixty-five percent said they are knowledgeable about agriculture while 54 percent often think about how food was grown and raised.

Respondents were also asked a series of questions about farmer performance, asking if farmers are on the right or wrong track with water quality, caring what consumers think, building strong communities and providing safe foods.

Eighty-nine percent feel farmers are on the right track in building strong communities while 90 percent agreed that farmers are on the right track in providing safe food.

Randy Miller, a soybean, corn and pig farmer from Lacona says the findings are encouraging.

“So often we only hear the loudest, most negative voices,” Miller says. “The reality is — when we share information about what farmers are doing and how they are doing it — perceptions are positive.”

Survey respondents were also asked to share opinions about where improvements can be made in food production. Thirty percent of respondents referenced water quality.

While improvement is always needed, Miller said the finding underscores the need for farmers to be more specific when talking about the progress being made to improve soil and water health.  

 “As farmers, it’s on us to get out and share our stories. It makes a difference in consumer attitudes. We need to continue building two-way conversations between farmers and consumers and learn where the focus is when it comes to what consumers care about.”

Iowa FFP uses the results of its annual Consumer Pulse Survey to more-effectively connect Iowans to agriculture through a variety of outreach activities including farm tours, community events and content sharing.

Find additional highlights here.

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 ABOUT THE IOWA FOOD & FAMILY PROJECT

The Iowa Food & Family Project encourages Iowans to become more confident and trusting in agriculture and food production through community activities, educational programs and information sharing. It proudly sponsors Live Healthy Iowa and is backed by more than 35 partners including each of the participating agricultural organizations, plus restaurants and retailers throughout the state.

Funded in part by the soybean, pork, corn, beef, dairy, egg and turkey checkoffs.