ANN ARBOR, MICH. — Customer satisfaction with packaged food products remains stable, as the industry overall continues to deliver strong quality and customer perceptions of value are on the rise, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index Nondurable Products Report issued on Oct. 22.

At a score of 82, the American Customer Satisfaction Index for food manufacturing was unchanged from 2018.

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.

Within the food category, Hershey Co., last year’s leader with a score of 86, fell into a first-place tie with PepsiCo, Inc.’s Quaker Oats brand and a large group of “all others” at 84. The “all others” grouping includes store brands such as Walmart’s Great Value and Kroger Co.’s private label brand.

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

After posting the biggest gain in 2018, Dole gave back 2% but still finished with a score of 83. Just behind Dole were General Mills, Inc. and Mars, Inc., each at 82.

The next four companies in the food category — Campbell Soup Co., Conagra Brands, Kraft Heinz and Nestle — each finished at 81. Both Kraft Heinz and Nestle were down 1% from 2018.

At the bottom of the industry were Kellogg Co. and Tyson Foods, which both fell 1% over the previous year to a score of 80.

Customer satisfaction in soft drinks was stable and relatively high at an ACSI score of 82 as the industry continues to anticipate sales declines in carbonated soft drinks.

“Consumers, especially millennials, are moving toward noncarbonated options that they perceive to be healthier,” the report said. “Meanwhile, major urban centers such as Philadelphia are imposing taxes on sugary drinks, but results are mixed as consumption rises in nearby areas without the added tax. However, a nationwide soda tax could be a gamechanger for the industry. Amid these shifts, the industry is almost completely deadlocked for customer satisfaction as those who choose soft drinks remain happy with their purchases overall.”

Keurig Dr Pepper eased 2% to 82 in 2019. PepsiCo, meanwhile, increased 2% to finish at 82. Coca-Cola Co. posted a score of 81 in the year.

“Nondurables historically includes some of the most satisfying industries we measure, but what’s interesting is, unlike in other sectors, the most satisfying companies tend to be smaller,” says David VanAmburg, managing director at the ACSI. “Craft breweries, specialty personal care items, and store brand food manufacturers tend to give customers the level of quality and value they expect, while the behemoths miss the mark. Bigger isn’t always better.”

The ACSI Nondurable Products Report 2018-19 is based on interviews with 5,245 customers, chosen at random and contacted via email between Oct. 8, 2018, and Sept. 14, 2019. Customers are asked to evaluate their experiences with recently purchased products of the largest manufacturers in terms of market share, plus an aggregate category consisting of “all other”—and thus smaller—companies in these industries.