Conventional Wisdom Doesn’t “Checkout” for Iowa Shoppers

Guest blog post by Lindsey Foss, Public Relations Manager at the Iowa Soybean Association

food labelAs consumers’ education levels and household income increase, so too does their trust in modern agriculture and today’s food system, says the latest Consumer Pulse Survey. In contrast, Iowans with less disposable income report being more concerned with how and where their food is grown.

The annual poll, administered Nov. 10-14 by the Iowa Food & Family Project (Iowa FFP), surveyed more than 400 Iowans ages 18 and older who are the primary food purchasers for their household. Now in its sixth year, the Consumer Pulse Survey gauges consumers’ food preferences, tracks shopping habits and keeps in touch with Iowans’ overall confidence in Iowa agriculture.

“The Consumer Pulse Survey provides perspectives that challenge conventional wisdom as it relates to interacting with consumers about food topics,” said Aaron Putze, director of communications at the Iowa Soybean Association. “One would assume that with increased income and education comes greater discernment over food choices. At the macro level, this survey shows that important socioeconomic factors hold great influence over consumers’ purchases and, ultimately, their confidence in how their food is grown and raised.”

“Trust” is on the menu this holiday season

Four out of 5 respondents are satisfied with Iowa agriculture from how animals are raised and cared for to farmers being stewards of air, soil and water quality. Specifically:

  • 57% say farmers are doing a good to excellent job in protecting Iowa’s air, soil and water (up 7% from 2016)
  • 39% say farmers do an excellent job producing safe, quality foods (up 12% from 2016)
  • 35% say farmers do an excellent job in raising healthy animals with care (up 9% from 2016)

“Food purchasers have consistently given Iowa farmers high approval ratings since the Iowa Food & Family Project’s inaugural consumer trust survey,” said Laura Cunningham, marketing manager of Latham Hi-Tech Seeds. “I was encouraged to see in 2017 that a record number of respondents said farmers are on the right track with water quality, animal housing and biotechnology and are overall good community members and environmentalists. That’s the same experience I have working with farmer-customers, too.”

 “Trendy” labels push expiration dates

Food labels such as “organic” and “all natural” showed a continued downward trend among survey respondents in terms of influencing their purchasing decision. Just 27% said they’re likely to purchase an item labeled organic, down 6% from 2016. A survey record 52 percent of respondents say the notation doesn’t affect their shopping habits. In fact, 1 in 5 shoppers is less likely to purchase food labeled organic.

“This is interesting because USDA Organic forecasted increases in organic-labeled products through 2018,” said Anne Hytrek, Hy-Vee Dietitian (Ankeny Prairie Trail) and Certified Diabetes Educator. “These results make me wonder if Iowans are learning more of the differences — or lack thereof —  in ‘organic’ or ‘all natural’ foods and discovering these labels may not necessarily mean food is healthier.”

The assumption doesn’t apply to all consumers, however. According to the survey, shoppers without advanced education are more than twice as likely than those with a college degree to say attributes such as organic and all-natural are extremely influential in their purchase decisions.

Responses show that college graduates whose household incomes exceed the state median of $54,000 are, at large, more trusting of modern agriculture and that food is of good quality.

“The survey results demonstrate that more affluent consumers are more likely to ask questions when they have concerns, focus more on specific ingredients and are not easily swayed by labels or clever advertising campaigns,” said Putze.

The results were also reassuring for Cunningham.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the survey findings that food labels like ‘organic’ and ‘all natural’ have little to no influence on actual purchases made,” said Cunningham. “Given all the media attention on water quality and food labeling, I would’ve expected different results. I’m convinced that ongoing, proactive efforts by Iowa farmers and industry advocates are making a positive impact and will continue to result in increased consumer confidence.”

The Consumer Pulse Survey results shows Iowans are more trusting than ever in farmers to raise healthy animals and safe, quality foods — and for good reason! Iowa is No. 1 in pork production and is among the nation’s leaders in growing soybeans, which means you can enjoy delicious, homegrown ingredients this holiday season, like in this Cheesy Ham & Edamame Pasta Bake. It’s the perfect hearty casserole for leftover Christmas ham or to enjoy on a chilly winter day.

Cheesy Ham Pasta Bake with Edamame



4 TBSP butter
1/2 cup of minced sweet yellow onion
4 TBSP flour
4 cups 2% or whole milk
1 tsp ground mustard
2 tsp seasoned salt, divided
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 cups shredded jack cheese
1 cup parmesan cheese
3 cups of leftover ham, chopped into 1/2” pieces
2 cups of shelled edamame
1 bell pepper, finely chopped
1 pound box of pasta (cellentani, rigatoni, penne etc.) cooked to al dente, drained
1 C reserved pasta cooking water



  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large stock pot over medium heat, add butter and onion. Cook for 5 minutes until onion is translucent.
  3. To the onion and butter mixture, add flour and stir well to incorporate. Cook for 2 minutes, then add milk, stirring well again. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until mixture comes to a simmer. Simmer for 2-4 minutes, or until thickened.
  4. Remove from heat and add ground mustard, 1 ½ tsp of the seasoned salt, black pepper and all cheese minus 1 cup of the shredded cheese which will be used for garnish. Stir or whisk well until smooth.
  5. Add ham, edamame and bell pepper. Set aside.
  6. Boil pasta for 2 minutes less than box instructions indicate.
  7. Strain pasta, reserving 1 cup of pasta cooking liquid.
  8. Add pasta to large stock pot with cheese/ham/edamame sauce. Stir well.
  9. Add some pasta cooking liquid if needed so the sauce is not too thick. It will continue to cook during the bake time, so it needs to be a bit looser to start.
  10. Spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray. Add cheese sauce covered pasta mixture. Sprinkle reserved shredded cheese on top. Sprinkle with ½ tsp seasoned salt.
  11. Bake for 25 minutes. For a browned top, broil on high for 2-4 minutes until top of mac and cheese is browned. Serve warm. Makes 6-10 servings


For make-ahead preparation, simply prepare the casserole up to the point of baking, cover with foil for up to 24 hours, then bake at 350 F for 40 minutes, when ready. For freezer preparation, cover the unbaked casserole with plastic wrap, pressing it to the surface so air will not come between the plastic and the casserole. Cover tightly with aluminum foil as well, and freeze. When ready to bake, remove casserole from freezer, remove foil and plastic wrap, re-cover with foil and bake at 350 F for 1 hour and 10 minutes, covered with foil, then remove foil and broil for a couple of minutes to brown cheese. Serve warm.