Setting a new record with a score of 91, the highest score ever recorded in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), H. J. Heinz Company remains the leader in the food manufacturing segment for the sixth straight year.

According to a new ACSI survey, Heinz's investment in quality improvement tools is paying off. Source: H.J. Heinz Company.

"Perceived quality and customer satisfaction are closely related, and Heinz's investment in quality improvement tools is clearly paying off," said Jack West, a former president of American Society for Quality, a co-sponsor of the index.

With scores of 88 and 86, Quaker Foods and Hershey are also near the top. ConAgra joins them with the largest improvement of any company in the industry this year, up 5% to 86. ConAgra has been shedding various pieces of its non-food and agricultural operations to concentrate on its branded packaged food business. This strategy to become leaner and more focused may be working, says ACSI. ConAgra's score this year is an all-time high.

The ACSI for the pet food industry declined by 1% to a score of 82. Like food processors, pet food companies demonstrate a great deal of stability in satisfying their customers. The big news is Del Monte's improvement, up 5% to 83. According to ACSI, better quality and value for money are behind Del Monte's improvement in pet food, which accounts for 25% of the food manufacturer's total sales revenues.

ACSI is a national economic indicator of customer evaluations of the quality of products and services available to household consumers in the US. Updated quarterly, the index is produced by the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business in partnership with the American Society for Quality and CFI Group.