Winn-Dixie: A Few More Smiles; the Grocery Chain Gains a Bit on Publix in Terms of Customer Satisfaction

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Byline: MARK BASCH

Consumers are becoming more and more satisfied with Jacksonville-based Winn-Dixie Stores Inc., according to an annual customer satisfaction survey. But even though Publix Super Markets Inc. slipped a bit last year, the Lakeland-based company is still by far the favorite among major U.S. supermarket chains.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index, a research organization formed at the University of Michigan, found that overall satisfaction with supermarkets fell by 1.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010 from the fourth quarter of 2009, mainly due to higher food prices. But Winn-Dixie bucked the trend as its satisfaction score rose by 2.7 percent, its third straight annual gain.

ACSI rates businesses in a number of sectors on a scale of 1 to 100, based on telephone surveys of consumers. Winn-Dixie's score bottomed out at 71 in 2007, the year after the company emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. But with the company focusing on improving its customer experience, its score has risen every year since, reaching 76 in 2010, one point above the average for all U.S. supermarkets.

"They should absolutely be encouraged over this four-year trend," said David VanAmburg, managing director of ACSI.

During a conference call with Winn-Dixie employees Tuesday to discuss the company's quarterly financial results, CEO Peter Lynch said the improving customer satisfaction score shows that the company's strategy to focus on "fresh and local" products for customers is working. But he also said the company still has work to do to keep improving the score.

Publix's score fell by 2.3 percent to 84, but VanAmburg said that shouldn't be a concern.

"Statistically, it's not a significant drop," he said. "They're still well above everybody else. …