Thanks in large part to the growing number of healthier options in the marketplace, overall satisfaction with packaged foods is on the rise. Satisfaction with beer is also up, though mostly driven by craft varieties.
Customer satisfaction with packaged food products ranging from chocolate, baked goods and cereal to meat, cheese, and frozen foods rose by 1.2% on average in the past 12 months, to index at 82 (on a 0 to 100 scale), according to the 2018 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) Nondurable Products Report.
In contrast, in 2017’s report, customer satisfaction with packaged foods was down 2.4% versus 2016, to a score of 81.
Improved quality, as well as slower-than-expected increases in prices, are major contributors to the bump in satisfaction with packaged foods seen in the latest data.
“Growing demand for healthier foods has reshuffled the playing field for grocery brands,” sums up ACSI Managing Director David VanAmburg. “In 2018, the sales of plant-based foods grew 20%, and one in 10 consumers have tried a gluten-free diet. These aren’t fads; customers want to adhere to a healthier lifestyle, and they’re more satisfied with brands that offer those options.”
Hershey held on to the top customer satisfaction ranking among food manufacturers with an ACSI score of 86, unchanged from last year. However, the company “just barely” kept the #1 spot, despite removing artificial ingredients from many of its core products and making nutritional information more accessible to the public, according to ACSI.
Thanks to redesigned salad packaging and a growing array of healthy snacks-to-go, Dole earned the #2 position. Its score jumped by 4%, to 85 — the biggest gain among all food manufacturers.
Three food makers tied for third place, with scores of 84. That score represented 2% increases for both Mars and General Mills, which invested heavily in organic products over the past year, and Mars, which is set to launch updated versions of its confections. PepsiCo’s Quaker also scored 84 last year.
Nestlé chocolate/confections (now owned by Ferrero) and Kraft Heinz and Nestlé chocolate/confections (now owned by Ferrero), each had unchanged scores of 82.
Kraft Heinz — once the highest-scoring company in the ACSI report — “has struggled to attract and keep customers as consumer preferences shift toward healthier foods,” the report points out. “Processed cheese is a sore spot, as industrywide sales register a fourth straight year of declines and are projected to drop another 1.6% this year. Even though 40% of households stock Kraft Singles, sales have flattened."
Meanwhile, “while consumers consider Nestlé’s quality to be lacking, Ferrero intends to reformulate key brands, including Butterfinger, with ingredients and packaging to ensure a better and fresher product by spring 2019,” reports ACSI. Underlining the better-for-you trend, the Switzerland-based Nestlé sold off the U.S. confections business so it could focus on more healthful foods, the researchers note.
Four packaged foods makers tied with scores of 81. That represented a 1% gain for Campbell Soup and Tyson, status quo for Kellogg, and a 1% decline for Conagra—the only food maker to see a decline.
Consumers are dissatisfied with Conagra’s value, but even more unhappy with its quality. “The ACSI econometric model suggests that an improvement to quality would have a sizable impact on customer satisfaction, much greater than a price reduction,” says the report.
Biggest Soda Brands Down; Healthier Options Up
Not surprisingly, given the ongoing migration away from sugary and even diet sodas, customer satisfaction with soft drinks as a whole fell 2.4%, to 82.
The two largest soda makers saw satisfaction dive: PepsiCo’s score dropped by 6%, to 80; and Coca-Cola’s score dropped 5%, to 81. The two giants continue to diversify to decrease their dependence on their flagship brands, of course, with Coca-Cola most recently moving into the coffee category and PepsiCo most recently acquiring SodaStream.
Also, following a last-place finish in the beverages category in 2017, Dr Pepper Snapple has benefited from its merger with Keurig Green Mountain and its acquisition of Core Nutrition. In fact, the company now leads the category, with a score of 84 (up 2%).
Notably, all other beverage producers — including La Croix and bottled water and kombucha brands — saw positive satisfaction trends. (La Croix’s performance hadn’t been affected, at least as yet, by a lawsuit disputing its 100% natural ingredients claim, which broke in the news in early October. The brand has denied the allegation.)
Satisfaction With Breweries Reaches New High
Despite declining beer consumption and sales, consumer satisfaction with breweries has never been higher: up 1.2% to an ACSI score of 85, says the report.
That’s largely thanks to the popularity of smaller craft beers and microbrews. These “other breweries” lead the category, with a 1% gain bringing the group’s score to 86.
Anheuser-Busch InBev was close behind, rising 1% to 85.
But Molson Coors declined 4%, to 81, putting it at the bottom of the category. Declining sales led the company “to abandon its millennial-focused line, MillerCoors’ Two Hats, and turn its attention back to a struggling Coors Light,” notes the report.
But competition has its upside. “It’s clear that the craft beer segment, while still small, has put enough of a scare into the big players that they’re being craftier themselves,” says VanAmburg. “Right now, the reputation for microbrews is so strong that everybody’s stepping up their game.”