ACSI: Customer satisfaction with food, soft drinks hold steady despite some headwinds

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty
Source: Getty

Related tags soda Entrepreneurship Big Food

Customer satisfaction in grocery food and beverages continues to outrank that of most other consumer good segments, but a slight reshuffling among the most trusted brands underscores a broader shift in shopper preferences from the once all-powerful national brands to smaller players and private label, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index’s most recent Nondurable Products Report released today.

Customer satisfaction with grocery food held stead at 82 out of 100 – “a level deemed excellent” ​and higher than all but two of the 46 categories ranked in the annual report, which estimates customer satisfaction of food, soft drinks, beer, personal care and cleaning items, apparel and athletic shoes based on interviews with more than 5,200 customers chosen at random between Oct. 8, 2018 and Sept. 14, 2019.

Customer satisfaction with the soft drink industry also held steady at 82, with only breweries and personal care & cleaning products beating out food manufacturing and soft drinks for the top two categories on ACSI’s index.

Manufacturing and processing innovations buoy customers’ food satisfaction

Based on the consumer surveys, ACSI reports that the food manufacturing industry “continues to deliver strong quality and customer perceptions of value are on the rise – although not enough to lift satisfaction higher overall.”

In particular, customers responded well to food manufacturers overall use of technology to improve food safety and shelf life as well as innovations in manufacturing and processing, according to the report.

A closer look at specific players listed by consumers in the ACSI report reveal that while consumer satisfaction with food manufacturing overall held stead, their satisfaction with some large name brand manufacturers faltered slightly while their satisfaction in smaller brands and private labels strengthened.

For example, last year’s leader Hershey fell 2% to earn a still high score of 84, while a catch-all category of “all others” that includes store brands such as Walmart’s Great Value and Kroger’s eponymous label rose 1% for a combined score of 84.

“Quality perceptions have improved for the smaller brands and their value is deemed superior to all the major manufacturers as the compete well when it comes to pricing,”​ according to the report.

This is a theme that has emerged in recent years and prompted some large players to either snap up innovative startups through mergers and acquisitions or work with them through incubator and venture capital arms that allow iconic brands to learn from the entrepreneurs behind up and coming brands.

Of the big names cited by consumers that ACSI interviewed only PepsiCo’s Quaker, Campbell Soup and Conagra held steady from last year with consumer satisfaction scores of 84, 81 and 81 respectively. Hershey, Dole, General Mills, and Mars all fell 2% and Kraft Heinz, Nestlé (Ferrero), Kellogg and Tyson all fell 1%.

Satisfaction in soft drinks holds steady despite pushback against sugar

On the soft drink side, overall customer satisfaction in the segment held steady but it faces rising threats related to consumer pushback against sugary drinks, according to ACSI.

It explains that the industry is “almost completely deadlocked for customer satisfaction”​ between those who continue to happily choose soft drinks and those who are moving toward noncarbonated options that they perceive to be healthier.

The threat of a nationwide soda tax could be a “gamechanger”​ for the industry, ACSI warns, noting that taxes on sugary drinks at the city level have generated mixed results with consumption rising in nearby areas where the tax does not apply.

A closer look at specific brands, reveal that consumer satisfaction in PepsiCo climbed 2% to 82 compared to Coca-Cola, which held steady but also was ranked the lowest at 81. Satisfaction scores for Keuring Dr Pepper fell 2% to 82 and satisfaction in “all others” fell 1% to 82, according to the survey.

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