Campbell Soup Company has vaulted to #1 in the Reputation Institute’s annual “US RepTrak” 100 rankings this year.
Campbell rose by a remarkable 30 positions from last year’s study, with a score of 82.2. Scores of 80 and above are considered “excellent.”
That leap came amid results showing an average decline of three points in the reputation scores of companies in the USRT100 ranking — the biggest drop since 2008, according to Forbes. RI estimates that each point loss equates to about $1 billion in market capitalization.
The disruption resulted in 36 companies making the 100 ranking for the first time — and six, including Campbell, making the top 10 for the first time. Overall, companies’ rankings changed by an average of 27 positions, reflecting “a significant erosion of trust and confidence in corporations and making earning stakeholder support more difficult,” RI summed up.
“The U.S. is at the epicenter of the loss of trust and reputation for corporations globally,” Brad Hecht, senior managing director of the Americas at RI, elaborated to Forbes. “The way the White House is being managed with organized chaos is impacting the way companies are managed, and it’s causing reputation concern.”
“The underlying reputation disruption we are seeing in the U.S. is driven by a crisis of trust,” Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, RI’s chief reputation research officer elaborated, in a statement. “In an era of tweet ranting, fake news, data privacy breaches and questioning of company ethics, the trust in big companies has eroded in the past year. Companies that are most trusted garner a stronger reputation.”
The survey quantifies the emotional bond stakeholders have with more than 880 leading companies, and how those connections drive behaviors such as recommending a brand, buying a company’s products, and investing in or seeking to work for a company. This year’s results are based on ratings from 52,000 individuals surveyed in January and February 2018.
Campbell has managed, with few exceptions, to avoid the types of public missteps and controversies that have become daily, deadly occurrences in the corporate world since the dawn of social media. “In a politically polarized environment increasingly centered around the credibility of information and authentic communication, we are seeing that corporate reputation and politics do mix, and can significantly impact corporate reputation,” RI observed in its summary. Today, consumers judge companies on how much they are doing to “make the world a better place,” in Hahn-Griffiths’s words.
But Campbell’s biggest differentiator lies in CEO Denise Morrison’s having made corporate responsibility and transparency core drivers of the company’s business model, Hahn-Griffiths stressed to Forbes. “Social activism, aligning with communities, what you do to make the world a better place —that’s the metric.”
Under Morrison, Campbell vowed to become the food industry’s “mosttransparent company.” It was one of very few large companies to support federal regulation that would have required disclosing GMO ingredients on labels (most others fought, successfully, to weaken and delay that regulation). It has continued to deliver on a promise to remove artificial ingredients from most of its products in North America by the end of this year — encouraging consumers to check its Real Food Index to track its progress against its goals and see exactly what ingredients are in each of its products. (Its “real ingredients” score across its full portfolio has now reached 91%.)
Campbell also has launched myriad “clean” products — including the Well Yes! soup line — and acquired others, including Bolthouse Farms and Plum Organics.
However, there is a big "but": Despite the consumer goodwill apparently generated, Campbell's transparency and clean products expansion has to date failed to revive its sales growth. "Fresh foods have proved hard to source and manage when weather affects produce harvests," reported The Wall St. Journal. "Campbell had to recall some beverages from stores due to food-safety issues. The expansion into the fresh business hurt Campbell’s profit margin, while its core brands, including U.S. soup, continued to falter." [Addendum: In May 2018, Morrison stepped down as CEO as a result of continuing sales declines. Reflecting the revolution in consumer food preferences, she was the 15th CEO from a CPG or meat company to step down or be replaced since the start of 2016.]
Food, Consumer, Automotive Shine
Three other companies making this year’s top 10 are also from the food/beverages sector: Kellogg (#5), Hershey (#6) and J.M. Smucker (#8). Kellogg and Smucker made the top 10 for the first time. Hershey was #8 last year.
Indeed, RI reports that food — along with automotive and the borad “consumer” category — were the only three categories to have strong reputation scores this year. Most industries fell in the average range.
Non-food brands in 2018’s top 10 include Nike (#2), Bose (#3), Barnes & Noble (#4, up from #10 in 2017), Hallmark (#7, down from #5), and Canon (#9).
Amazon made #10 — but it’s been slipping. It was #1 in 2016, and #2 in 2017.
Apple actually fell off the top 100 list this year, with an 11-point drop in its score. Last year, it ranked #72.
Facebook, meanwhile, is in “reputational free-fall,” says RI — and not just because of the massive damage inflicted by the recent disclosures about Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of Facebook users’ personal data to try to swing elections. The world's largest social media network has been losing reputational ground for years. This year, it failed to make the top 100. It pulled a score of just 55.5 points, and “just 18% of survey respondents [reported being] willing to give the company the benefit of the doubt,” reported Forbes.