The food and beverage industry’s generally positive image among the American public is under threat, according to the latest edition of I-Rep, a biannual survey on perceptions of leading industries and large companies conducted by Ipsos. The survey suggests that goodwill toward the sector has declined over recent months.

About 61 percent of those surveyed earlier this year said they had a favorable impression of the industry, down from 67 percent in July of 2006. Eight percent had a favorable impression earlier this year, compared to six percent in 2006.

Annabel Evans, vice president of Ipsos Public Affairs, says the increasing disaffection with the food and beverage industry may result from extensive media coverage of issues related to health and nutrition. Many Americans mention trans-fats, obesity and poor nutritional value when asked about what they have recently seen, heard or read about various leading food and beverage companies.

Recent headlines warning of contaminated pet food as well as the Federal Trade Commission’s announcement of plans to investigate the sector’s marketing activities targeted toward children and adolescents might also raise concerns.

Nearly a third (31 percent) say that they are influenced by nutritional information when they are buying a food or beverage product with more than a quarter (27 percent) wanting to know a lot more about nutrition and a healthy diet.

“This could be the beginning of a long-term decline in favorability towards the sector” says Evans. “If the public does not perceive that companies are taking significant steps to address the impact of their products on public health, we may see even more negativity. While quality of products and services is the most important factor for consumers to judge companies, perceived responsibility is as strongly related to goodwill as customer service and value for money.”

Specific suggestions from the public on how individual food and beverage companies could improve their overall reputation often focus on providing and promoting healthier products, especially those aimed at children, through the use of whole grains and organic ingredients and the reduction of sugar, salt and fat (or hydrogenated fat) content.

Relative to other sectors, however, the food and beverage industry, in general, and individual companies, in particular, still continue to enjoy a good reputation among American consumers: