IRI snares Campbell Soup market-research account

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Following a series of major account losses and layoffs in recent years, Information Resources Inc. has wrested Campbell Soup Co.'s U.S. retail tracking market research account from rival VNU's ACNielsen. The move appears related to IRI's announcement last week that it has signed a first-of-its-kind agreement to report data from club store heavyweight Costco.

Campbell's switch from ACNielsen to IRI, which will conclude following a 13-month transition period, was prompted by a need to "fill gaps in our syndicated retail tracking," a spokesman said. ACNielsen will continue to provide analytic and other services in the U.S. and overseas, Campbell said.

Campbell did not specify precisely which gaps it was looking to fill, and an IRI spokeswoman declined to elaborate. Both ACNielsen and IRI in recent months have announced deals with Fred's Dollar Stores to provide the syndicated research industry's first scanner data from that channel, but only IRI so far has acquired Costco data. Industry heavyweight Wal-Mart Stores refuses to sell data to either company for any of its stores, including Sams Clubs.

The Campbell shift is the first real sign of a reversal of fortune for IRI in the scanner data business following a series of client defections, including last year's shift of the industry's biggest account-Procter & Gamble Co.-estimated at more than $20 million a year. The once publicly held IRI was acquired late last year by a consortium led by Symphony Technology Group.

highly contested

The Campbell account, estimated at $4 million to $5 million, is only a small fraction of P&G's business, but one that's been highly contested and was touted heavily by ACNielsen when it moved the other way in the late 1990s.

ACNielsen said in a statement: "While we are disappointed with the decision ... we are pleased that [Campbell] will retain many ACNielsen high-value services into 2005." ACNielsen added that Campbell has indicated it will be receptive to seeing future products and capabilities, including the Homescan Mega-Panel to be rolled out later this year, which will more than double the size of the current 60,000-household panel.

An IRI spokeswoman declined to label the Campbell win the start of a turnaround, noting "this is a fairly light renewal year" for retail data contracts. She added that she does not believe the win is a double-edged sword that could have a bearing on IRI's billion-dollar-plus anti-trust suit against ACNielsen, in which IRI alleges it's been damaged in the U.S. by anti-competitive practices overseas.

"The defense may try to use [the Campbell win to rebut IRI's claims,]," the IRI spokeswoman said, but she added that the lawsuit is based on past behavior and damage claims.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York earlier this month set an April 2005 trial date for the case.

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