Battle of the Soft Drinks

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Battle of the Soft Drinks

Carbonated soft drinks continue to make consumers happy, but when it comes to their favorites, Pepsi is winning the challenge for now, according to the University of Michigan's annual consumer satisfaction survey, released this week.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that this year's American Consumer Satisfaction Index showed people preferred Pepsi more than they did last year, while customers' taste for Coke fizzled. Satisfaction among Coke drinkers fell two points over last year to a five-year low of 82 points on a 100-point scale. Pepsi, which gained four points, and Cadbury Schweppes, which gained three points, tied for the highest satisfaction rating at 86.

In years past, Cadbury has consistently outperformed Pepsi and Coke in the index, which started in 1994, the newspaper said.

Coke spokesman Scott Williamson wasn't crying in his bubbles over the news that Coke's score slipped. "Consumers in the U.S. vote for their favorite soft drinks every day when they buy them," he said. "And they continue to make Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Sprite and Fanta the No. 1 soft drink in their respective categories year after year."

Satisfaction over soft drinks as a whole was up slightly, maintaining the category's typically high rating, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said.

Professor Claes Fornell, the researcher in charge of the university's American Customer Satisfaction Index, said Coke's slide wouldn't be significant if it weren't for the fact that satisfaction among Pepsi drinkers bubbled up four points.

"The gap between these two is greater than we've ever seen before," said Fornell, director of the school's National Quality Research Center.

Fornell said anecdotal evidence gathered by his researchers suggests that an increase in spending on marketing and product innovation, and a lesser reliance on price promotions, might have helped Pepsi bump up its satisfaction rating. He said when consumers have more choices, they are more likely to be happy.

Coke's Williamson dismissed Fornell's conclusion, noting that Coke has been just as innovative as Pepsi when it comes to carbonated soft drinks. He also pointed out that third-quarter data from grocery store scanners showed Coke gained market share on Pepsi while charging more for its products, the newspaper said.

The survey measures customer satisfaction with the quality of goods and services sold nationally to household consumers. The survey evaluates approximately 200 companies in 43 industries and government agencies. At least 250 actual customers are surveyed for each company. Results are compared with results from the previous year's quarter.