NEW YORK: General Mills and Johnson & Johnson are among the companies that US consumers believe are leading the way when it comes to corporate social responsibility.

Burson-Marsteller, the communications firm, teamed up with Landor Associates and Penn Schoen Berland, the consultancies, to produce the Corporate Social Responsibility Perceptions Survey 2010.

This analysis was based on a poll of 1,001 American adults, and aimed to establish popular perceptions of major players in 14 different categories.

General Mills, the owner of Cheerios, Pillsbury and Betty Crocker, received the most positive feedback of the 64 featured organisations.

More broadly, manufacturers in the food industry were regarded as displaying the most impressive performance overall, with a rating of 62%.

This total stood at 58% for consumer goods specialists, in second place, and 57% for both the electronics and computer segments, in third and fourth in turn.

Retailers and online services each registered scores of 54%, with apparel on 52%, but perspectives reached a low of 38% for automakers, 35% for healthcare and 27% for financial services providers.

"Johnson & Johnson, a recognised leader in corporate responsibility, performed very well relative to the healthcare sector," said Scott Osman, global director of Landor Associates' citizenship branding arm.

"By communicating real success in the area of corporate responsibility, corporations have the potential for considerable benefits," he added.

In demonstration of this, the survey found that 38% of respondents plan to either maintain or increase the number of purchases they make from brand owners with strong CSR credentials in 2010.

A further 55% of contributors agreed they were "more likely" to choose an offering that supported a good cause when picking between competing alternatives.

Some 70% expressed a willingness to pay a premium for items made by responsible firms, including 7% who would spend an extra $100 (€74; £66) or more, and 42% who pegged this figure in the $1 to $10 range.

In terms of defining CSR, 20% of the sample said "giving back to the local community" played a vital role, with PepsiCo having launched a wide-ranging initiative focused on this very issue.

Self-regulation and accountability was on 19%, with "giving back to society" on 17%, ethics and honesty on 12%, and treating employees well on 8%.

Elsewhere, 7% of people said being "green" was essential, with a recent report by Two Tomorrows suggesting that Unilever and Danone are profiting from this kind of approach.

Quality products and fair prices were on 4%, while being customer-orientated and caring about the "product impact on customers" posted 3%.

Although only 13% of the panel had read about an organisation's CSR activity on an official website, 75% of this group were more likely to purchase goods or services from brand in question as a result.

However, 83% of participants argued they had not been exposed to formal CSR messages from any company to date, with just 11% stating the opposite.

This trend was almost as pronounced internally, with 78% of staff members revealing they were unsure about their employer's CSR policies.

"By communicating real success in the area of corporate responsibility, corporations have the potential for considerable benefits," said Osman.

"Industries consumers perceive as lacking in responsibility may have the greatest opportunity to benefit from authentically improving their image."

Data sourced from Burson-Marsteller; additional content by Warc staff