When Americans get queasy about the economy, they reach for comfort food like chocolate and ketchup and don comfort clothes like Levi's jeans, research from the University of Michigan showed on Monday.
"These types of products not only have increased demand, they have increased satisfaction," said Claes Fornell, director of the Michigan Business School's National Quality Research Centre. "That we usually see in economic downturns or recession or recession-like economies."
Candy makers such as Hershey Foods Corp. and Mars Inc. delivered more satisfaction to Americans in third quarter, while the H.J. Heinz Company , maker of the quintessential American food, ketchup, retained the top spot for brand satisfaction.
Researchers also found that Americans feeling the pinch of a sharp downturn also tend to get a lot more critical about what they drink, as satisfaction with brewers like Anheuser-Bush Companies , Adolph Coors Co. and soft drink maker Coca-Cola Company fell sharply.
But the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which measures overall brand loyalty and has been published since 1994, edged down only one-tenth of a percentage point to 72.0 in the July-September period from 72.1 in the prior quarter.
The survey, which focused on the nondurable manufactured goods sector, was conducted before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Fornell, who tracks American satisfaction with companies on an ongoing basis, added that he had seen "no empirical evidence" that suggested the Sept. 11 attacks had affected Americans' identification with brand names.
Clothing manufacturer Levi Strauss & Co. saw a jump in satisfaction, as did Colgate-Palmolive , maker of Colgate toothpaste and Irish Spring soap.
Satisfaction with Coca-Cola Co. fell by more, 5.8 percent, than rival PepsiCo Inc. , which edged down 1.2 per cent.
Consumers also turned negative on sneaker manufacturer Nike Inc. , down 5.1 per cent, and Reebok International Ltd. , down 6.4 per cent.
"Customer satisfaction may become somewhat less dominant in determining consumer spending in times of economic uncertainty," Fornell said.
"Customer satisfaction has predicted a large part of the variation in spending during the better half of the past decade. But this was also a time period when people were not worried about the health of the economy, their future incomes, unemployment or their accumulation of debt."
The research is conducted separately from the closely watched consumer sentiment survey, released twice monthly. The sentiment index has fallen 28.5 points to 83.5 in early November from a peak of 112.0 struck in early 2000 and has stabilised since the attacks.
The customer satisfaction data for the third quarter was collected from 12,500 telephone interviews with customers of the companies it tracks. It is conducted in partnership with the American Society for Quality and the CFI Group and measures customer satisfaction with consumer products and services generally, as well as for specific companies.
In the past year, the ACSI has fallen less than one percentage point, from 72.9.