- Five food brands made Morning Consult's first annual list of The 25 Most Trusted Brands in America. Survey respondents were asked "How much do you trust each brand to do what is right?" Participants could respond either "a lot," "some," "not much," "not at all" or "don't know."
- Hershey ranked as the seventh most trusted brand overall, followed by Cheerios at No. 9 and M&M's at No. 10. Heinz Ketchup and Campbell Soup also made the list, coming in with a tie for 21st place.
- The ranking was determined by an average of 16,700 interviews per brand for almost 2,000 brands. The report was conducted by Morning Consult's Brand Intelligence, which said it was the largest study of its kind to-date.
Consumers are increasingly turning toward trendy ingredients, flavors and products, making it difficult for legacy brands to maintain market share. On the list of Morning Consult's Fastest Growing Brands for 2019, newer brands like White Claw, Impossible Foods and Kind Snacks took the top spots.
But when it comes to trust, consumers still turn to the bigger and older brand names.
Previous studies have found similar results. Adults in the U.S. are more likely to trust brands that have been around a long time. Part of that trust is rooted in the familiarity of items they grew up eating. Nostalgia is a growing trend among legacy companies, which often feature older products and turn to sentimental marketing to bring back customers. This model is used by several of the food companies on the top 25 list.
What food do U.S. consumers trust the most? Candy, apparently. Hershey had 36.1% of respondents answer that they trust the brand "a lot," while M&M's had 34.8% with that response. Consumers often trust what they know. Chocolate is a product people understand is indulgent, and it hasn't changed much through the years.
Although both Hershey and M&M's have developed various iterations of their signature products, they still offer their classic versions. That could help nostalgia appeal, since a 2015 study from Canadean found six in 10 consumers find confectionery products remembered from childhood especially appealing.
This latest ranking shouldn't come as a surprise since previous polls have found similar results. Last year, Hershey, Oreo and M&M's ranked in YBrands' top 10 list of the most trustworthy brands among consumers 13 to 36 years old.
However, Morning Consult's survey found younger consumers are generally more skeptical of legacy companies. Looking at the breakdown of the most trusted brand by generation, Hershey and Cheerios placed in the top five for Baby Boomers, while just Hershey was in the top five list for Generation X. No food brands made the top five most trusted brands list for millennials or Generation Z.
One way for food companies to improve trust among young people could be investing in sustainability, which younger generations are increasingly looking for when buying foods.
The brands that made the list have made sustainability commitments in recent years that could have helped them earn consumer trust. Hershey committed $500 million to a sustainable cocoa initiative in West Africa. Mars, Inc. — M&M's parent company — has pledged to have a 100% sustainable supply chain to meet its future cacao needs, while Cheerios' parent General Mills is now using regenerative agriculture and organic farming to source ingredients for products including the legacy cereal brand. Heinz gave its ketchup packets a sustainable makeover and Campbell Soup has been named one of the world's most sustainable corporations by Corporate Knights.
Even with these environmentally conscious pledges, it won't be easy for food brands to maintain trust. The Morning Consult survey also found less than a quarter of Americans trust labels on food packaging. And although more consumers have purchased private label products in recent years, they don't always trust them.
At a time when the food industry at large has trust issues, it could be a smart move for brands to focus on finding more ways to build credibility for the future.