Rural, urban divide plays out in food claims, agriculture concerns, Purdue University finds

By Ryan Daily

- Last updated on GMT

Image Credit: Getty Images - 	Kwangmoozaa
Image Credit: Getty Images - Kwangmoozaa

Related tags consumer behavior Climate change

Despite overall satisfaction with their diets, rural and urban consumers are divided on agriculture's role in climate change and the health attributes of various products like plant-based milk, Purdue University shared in its latest research.

Purdue University surveyed​ more than 1,200 rural and urban consumers about their perception of several food and beverage claims and where they shop the most. Purdue University’s Center for Food Demand Analysis and Sustainability publishes research monthly. 

Most consumers (87%) are rather or very happy with their diets, up from 81% in January 2024, the last time Purdue asked consumers that question. 

Rural, urban divide on agriculture’s environmental impact, plant-based milk’s healthfulness

Rural and urban consumers agreed on the importance of several health-related product claims. Nearly half (46%) of urban and 41% of rural consumers said organic food is more nutritious than non-organic food. Additionally, 36% of urban and 32% of rural shoppers said gluten-free food is healthier for you. 

Rural and urban consumers were more split on how agriculture impacted global warming and the health benefits of plant-based milk.

Almost half (49%) of urban consumers said agriculture is a significant contributor to climate change, compared to 40% of rural consumers. Similarly, half of urban consumers said eating less meat is better for the environment, compared to 38% of rural shoppers who said the same thing.

Additionally, 35% of urban consumers said plant-based milk is healthier than dairy milk, compared to 27% of rural consumers. 

However, most rural and urban consumers reported consulting reliable sources for health and sustainable food information.

On a scale of -100 (least trusted) to 100 (most trusted), 47% of urban and 48% of rural consumers received information from primary care physicians. Similarly, 36% of urban and 42% of rural shoppers received information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and 39% of both cohorts went to the Food and Drug Administration. 

Rural Americans shop more at dollar stores, urban consumers head into natural stores more 

Rural and urban consumers did most of their shopping in superstores (82% of urban and 89% of rural shoppers) and grocery stores (83% of urban and 76% of rural shoppers).   

Rural consumers are more likely to shop at discount or dollar stores (78%), compared to 64% of urban shoppers. However, 60% of urban shoppers will buy groceries at club stores, as opposed to 30% of rural consumers.  Additionally, nearly half of urban shoppers (47%) shopped at natural or specialty foods stores, in contrast to 22% of their rural counterparts.  

Consumers were asked to rate why they went into a store on a 1-5 scale (one being not at all important, and five being very important). Shoppers ranked food selection and offering of fresh produce the highest, each averaging a 4.6 score between the two cohorts. Price, store environment and ease of shopping followed, receiving average scores of 4.5, 4.4 and 4.3, respectively. 

Online shopping, local foods, and proximity to work were the least important, receiving an average rating of 3.1, 3.6, and 3.7, respectively.

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