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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Dr Pepper Snapple Group and Reynolds American have landed in the lead spot of their categories in customer satisfaction, according to a report released today by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).
The index follows consumer satisfaction in four categories: soft drinks, cigarettes, beer, and personal care and cleaning items. According to ACSI, consumers are still pleased with their purchases in those four categories, with the four areas showing changes in the ACSI scores of 1 percent less compared to a year ago. While U.S. sales have slumped for sugary sodas, beer and cigarettes, factors such as high quality and product innovation keep customer satisfaction relatively high and stable for these industries, according to an ACSI release.
According to ACSI, the soft drink industry continued to register a high level of customer satisfaction in 2012, despite a small downturn of 1.2 percent to 84 on a scale of 0 to 100. Among 47 ACSI industries, only two score higher -- televisions and video players/recorders at 86 and credit unions at 87. And even though some consumers are moving away from carbonated beverages in favor of noncarbonated drinks like ready-to-drink teas, the major beverage manufacturers are innovating to keep pace with changing preferences.
"Overall, carbonated soft drink consumption declined 1 percent 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," said Claes Fornell, ACSI founder and author of "The Satisfied Customer: Winners and Losers in the Battle for Buyer Preference." "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."
Taking the lead in the category is Dr Pepper Snapple Group, which gained 6 percent to score an 87 and jump into the lead head of The Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo, according to the ACSI rankings. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and an aggregate of smaller manufacturers scored an 84.
"Nearly two decades of ACSI data show that companies with high satisfaction tend to do better in terms of profit and stock value compared with those with lower ACSI scores," 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 beer industry has also faced declining sales and its score slipped 1.2 percent to 81 on the ACSI. The index points to two challenges affecting the industry: higher prices and a weak economy. However, the smaller craft and specialty segment continue to be the bright spot in the market. ACSI results show the aggregation of smaller niche brands holding onto its industry lead for 2012, stable for seventh year at an ACSI score of 83.
This year, the combined U.S. operations of SABMiller and Molson Coors, known as MillerCoors, earned an ACSI score of 81. Last year, Miller did a better job of pleasing customers at 84. The lower score for the MillerCoors joint venture may reflect the higher prices commanded by Coors products, according to ACSI. Stable at 81, Anheuser-Busch InBev ties MillerCoors, which leaves both large brewers chasing the small brands for customer satisfaction.
As for tobacco, customer satisfaction with tobacco products picked up for a third consecutive year, increasing 1.3 percent to an ACSI score of 79. With this score, the industry just surpasses the ACSI level it achieved four years ago, before new tobacco taxes drove up retail prices. Overall cigarette consumption in the United States, however, continues to decline, according to ACSI.
"In the midst of a weaker economy, price plays a role in both slowing consumption and keeping the cigarette industry's satisfaction lower relative to other nondurable categories," Fornell said. "At the same time, tobacco users continue to view the quality of cigarettes to be quite high."
Reynolds American took the industry lead with a 5-percent gain to 81, edging out its main competitor Philip Morris, holding steady at 80. For Reynolds, 2012 marks a third consecutive year of customer satisfaction improvement and a 16-year ACSI high. The aggregate of all other tobacco brands follows behind the leaders at 77 (plus 1 percent).