Most Iowa grocery shoppers plan to continue choosing the flavor and nutritional benefits of real meat rather than switching to lab-grown meat or plant-based imitation meat, according to the latest Iowa Farm Bureau Food and Farm Index.

The survey found only 21% of Iowa grocery shoppers are even somewhat likely to purchase lab-grown meat instead of real meat, despite recent Food and Drug Administration approval of lab-grown meat products. Only 24% are likely to purchase plant-based imitation meat instead of real meat. 

Additionally, for Iowans who have previously purchased plant-based imitation meat, the majority (53%) are not likely to make a future purchase. 

While Iowans appear underwhelmed by imitation meat, their affinity for real meat remains strong, with 97% of Iowa households consuming meat and poultry at least weekly.         

As food costs remain high across the country, the survey found price continues to be a key factor for Iowa grocery shoppers when choosing meat, poultry and dairy products to purchase. At the grocery store, Iowans say the food labels that provide them the most information they are seeking are raised/grown/made locally (34%), raised/grown by Iowa family farmers (33%) and raised/grown/made in the U.S. (26%).

In addition to meat consumption, Iowans are also dairy lovers, with nearly all Iowa households (98%) consuming dairy at least weekly. One in three shoppers who have purchased plant-based imitation milk said they aren’t likely to purchase it again.         

The annual survey, now in its 10th year, was conducted online by The Harris Poll in the spring of 2023 and asked 500 Iowans, ages 20 to 60, with primary or shared household grocery shopping responsibilities about their purchasing habits and attitudes. The index also uncovered other trends and factors shaping consumption habits, including how and where Iowa grocery shoppers purchase meat and dairy for their families. 

Iowans trust farmers 

Trust and confidence in Iowa farmers have remained strong over the decade of polling. This year, 93% of Iowa grocery shoppers say they trust Iowa farmers, 88% are confident that Iowa farmers care for their animals responsibly and 81% feel confident that Iowa farmers are caring for the environment responsibly.         

About three-quarters (74%) of Iowa grocery shoppers are confident Iowa farmers are taking on the challenge of improving water quality. That number jumped to nearly 90% when they learned Iowa farmers lead the nation in no-till and reduced tillage farming, which allows farmers to minimize soil disturbance and that Iowa ranks No. 1 nationally in several water quality and soil protection practices, like water quality wetlands, bioreactors, grass waterways, filter and buffer strips, and conservation tillage.         

“There were several encouraging takeaways from the Food and Farm Index®, but earning the trust of Iowans when it comes to protecting the environment and caring for our animals is a badge of honor for Iowa farmers,” said Iowa Farm Bureau President Brent Johnson. “Iowa farmers are committed to sustainability and farming responsibly, and maintaining the trust and confidence of fellow Iowans remains a top priority.”

Nutrition sways purchases

More than 9 in 10 Iowa grocery shoppers consider animal-based proteins such as meat and milk as healthy options when considering foods and beverages in an average diet, and more than two-thirds of shoppers say they are likely to consume more meat and dairy after learning more about the unique nutritional attributes of real meat, poultry and dairy. 

Nutritional attributes of real meat and dairy appear to influence Iowa grocery shoppers' purchases.

Even shoppers who said they were likely to purchase imitation meat or milk are swayed by the nutrition of real meat, poultry and dairy. When learning about the high-quality protein, Vitamin B12, zinc and iron found in real animal products, likely buyers of imitation products and those unlikely to purchase imitation products were equally inclined to increase consumption of real meat and milk. Grocery shoppers in Iowa are more likely to say meat and milk from animals are healthier than plant-based alternatives, and according to nutritional experts, they are correct. 

“Animal proteins - meat, milk and eggs - are ‘complete’ proteins which mean they contain all the required amino acids needed for humans. These foods are also great sources of nutrients that maintain and enhance the immune system, such as vitamin B12, iron and zinc, which are not as well absorbed from plant-based foods,” said Dr. Ruth MacDonald, an Iowa State University food science and nutrition scholar. “Having a well-balanced diet is always important, but especially during high stress times like these, it’s even more important to ensure the foods we eat are rich in the vitamins, minerals and proteins that support and strengthen our immune system, and animal-based proteins remain an excellent source.” 

Nearly 9 in 10 Iowa grocery shoppers (87%) are likely to purchase food based on its ability to support and strengthen the immune system. Sixty-nine percent of Iowa grocery shoppers are likely to increase meat and poultry consumption after learning they provide the majority of zinc in our diets, which aids proper immune system function. 

After learning that the human body absorbs iron, which helps the body use oxygen, from meat and poultry more easily than iron from plant-based foods, 68% are likely to increase their meat and poultry consumption. Seventy-two percent are likely to increase consumption after learning that meat, eggs and dairy are natural sources of Vitamin B12, which promotes brain development in children and helps the nervous system function properly. And 68% are likely to consume more meat, eggs and dairy after learning they are the highest quality sources of protein, which can help with weight loss and muscle tone. 

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