Customer satisfaction in food improves
by Eric Schroeder
ANN ARBOR, MICH. — Despite the fact customer satisfaction at the national level remains stuck in neutral, customer satisfaction with food and beverage products is strong, according to data from the University of Michigan.
At a score of 83, the American Customer Satisfaction Index for food manufacturing in the third quarter of 2012 was up 2.5% from 81 in 2011. The score represented a stabilizing in food pricing during the third quarter.
The overall level of satisfaction in food manufacturing has held within a narrow range since the initial baseline figure of 84 in the summer of 1994. The 1994 baseline was the all-time high and 81 was the low, scored repeatedly in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2011.
Food manufacturing fared better than overall customer satisfaction, which scored a 75.9 in the third quarter, unchanged from the first and second quarter of 2012 but up from 75.7 in the third quarter of 2011. The food index also was better than the overall manufacturing/non-durable goods index, at 81.9, up 1.1% from last year.
Within the food category, H.J. Heinz Co. maintained its grip on the No. 1 slot, with a consumer satisfaction score of 89, unchanged from 2011. It marked the 13th consecutive year that Heinz has led the category.
“The enduring success of our iconic brand reflects our singular dedication to making exceptional products that consistently satisfy consumers, led by Heinz Ketchup,” said William R. Johnson, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Heinz. “Heinz is a perennial leader in our industry because we focus everyday on meeting the consumer’s appetite for great-tasting premium quality foods, convenience and importantly, value.”
Tied for second place in the food category with scores of 86 were two companies — Mars, Inc., down 1 point from 2011; and Quaker Foods, part of PepsiCo, Inc., up 2 points from 84 last year. The next four companies in the food category — Nestle S.A., Hershey Co., ConAgra Foods, Inc., and Sara Lee Corp. — each gained 1.2% in the third quarter of 2012.
The largest gainer in the third quarter was The Kellogg Co., up 3.8% to 83 from 80.
The largest tumble in the third quarter was by Kraft Foods. At a score of 81, Kraft was down 2.4% from 83 in 2011. The score of 81 ties the all-time low for Kraft, also achieved in 2002 and 2010.
“Over the past year, food prices have risen far less than the overall Consumer Price Index, which is up 2%,” said Claes Fornell, founder of the A.C.S.I. “While consumers may eventually feel the effects of the summer drought as we move into 2013, the relative stability in food costs now likely is contributing to higher customer satisfaction for the industry.”
The only other significant gainer in consumer satisfaction versus a year ago was cigarettes, up 1.3% at 79. By contrast customer satisfaction in soft drinks fell 1.2% to 84. Within soft drinks, the customer satisfaction score for Dr Pepper Snapple Group rose 6.1% to 87 from 82 in 2011.
“Overall, carbonated soft drink consumption declined 1% in 2011, but this has less to do with customer satisfaction than with a shift in consumer preference prompted by growing health concerns about sugary sodas,” Mr. Fornell said. “The New York City ban on large-size sugared drinks may be a harbinger of things to come for the soft drink industry, but major firms are responding by investing in other types of beverages in apparent recognition of the market challenges that lie ahead.”
Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo, Inc. showed slight 1.2% downturns to 84 and remain deadlocked for customer satisfaction for a third straight year.
“Nearly two decades of A.C.S.I. data show that companies with high satisfaction tend to do better in terms of profit and stock value compared with those with lower A.C.S.I. scores,” Mr. Fornell said. “At 87, Dr Pepper Snapple is close to the top of the Index overall, concurrent with its stock price reaching an all-time high over the past year.”
The American Customer Satisfaction Index is a national economic indicator of customer evaluations of the quality of products and services available to household consumers in the United States. The A.C.S.I. uses data from interviews with approximately 70,000 customers annually, and measures satisfaction with more than 230 companies in 47 industries and 10 economic sectors.