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Package-goods companies may see an end to discounted scanner data services if a U.S. Department of Justice inquiry blooms into an investigation of competitive pricing.

The department earlier this month (AA, Jan. 16) requested from A.C. Nielsen & Co. "documents relating to syndicated sales tracking services" to "evaluate the competitive nature of certain market behavior," according to a Nielsen spokesman.

The price wars waged for the last several years between archrivals Nielsen and Information Resources Inc. have been a popular topic of conversation for market research and package-goods executives.

Analysts and industry observers contend Nielsen in particular has taken drastic measures in the past year to stem the defection of clients to IRI.

Last year, Dole Food Co., Clorox Co. and Seagram Beverage Co. were among the clients who switched to IRI.

One executive close to the situation said the government may be looking into a number of competitive practices possibly used to keep clients, such as: price-cutting of scanner data services; boosting the number of employees working on an account, but not charging any additional fees and including that number of staffers in a client's contract; or including international data services to seal a domestic contract.

The Nielsen spokesman said the inquiry-called a civil investigative demand-implies no wrongdoing on the company's part. He added that fewer than 3% of the inquiries made annually by the department result in litigation.

IRI hasn't received a Justice Department request, said a company spokesman. He wouldn't comment on whether the company had been contacted at all by the department.

Separately, Anheuser-Busch Cos. last week moved its syndicated data business to IRI from Nielsen. A-B is IRI's first major beer client.

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