Nielsen, IRI and SPINS: Navigating The CPG Data Syndicators

Bedrock Analytics

by Bedrock Analytics

November 1, 2018

The organizations that collect, curate and sell CPG market data — including Nielsen, IRI and SPINS — all offer fairly similar solutions: centralized access to raw data and business intelligence. But as any experienced CPG professional knows, there are also some important differences between each of the CPG data syndication companies and the data they deliver.

When choosing which syndicator makes the most sense for your CPG business, you need to understand where each company gets its data from, and which data is actual vs. estimated. The truth is that each of these syndicators have gaps in their coverage, because they all pay for exclusive access to data from different retailers, forcing their competitors (and the customers of those competitors) to sometimes rely on estimates rather than hard figures. This uncertainty is compounded when the projection of future sales is factored in, making it extremely difficult for CPG manufacturers working in affected categories to strategize.

To overcome these gaps, many CPG manufacturers get data from multiple sources, but that creates another set of problems: When trying to reconcile or compare the different vendors’ datasets, they find that the categories, labels and even the data itself doesn’t match up. When this happens, the CPG company can either ignore the differences, or invest in unifying the datasets, a manual process that typically requires quite a bit of time and resources. (Fortunately, Bedrock Analytics solves this problem on our customer’s behalf by automatically harmonizing product and market data across data sources, allowing customer databases to be updated with new data in minutes, and allowing meaningful comparison across data sources.)

For CPG manufacturers deciding which syndicated data provider (or providers) to work with, let’s take a closer look at each of the major players in the industry.


Founded in 1923, Nielsen is an institution in the world of CPG market intelligence. Its eXtended All Outlet Combined (xAOC) multi-channel market offers its broadest view of US retail sales, and includes figures from food/grocery stores, drug stores, big box stores, and more. (It’s worth noting that xAOC does not include sales data from US convenience stores, which is only available through a different vendor.)

After nearly a century in business, Nielsen has cultivated many valuable exclusivity deals with major retailers, each with their own national footprint of retail locations. Combined, they account for one of the largest consumer behavior data networks in existence. Manufacturers looking for retailer-specific data from any of the following channels can only get it (at the time of this writing) through Nielsen, either through a standard subscription, or in the case of Whole Foods, through membership in a specialized portal service.

Standard Exclusive Retail Data

Specialized Portal Data



Though it’s a much younger company, IRI has managed to secure enough data reach to remain competitive with Nielsen. In fact, a number of its exclusive retail data deals could make it the ideal choice for some manufacturers. IRI’s MULO, or “Multi Outlet,” market offers high-level data across all major industries at the same general level as Nielsen. While IRI maintains only a fraction of the employee headcount that Nielsen does, it’s managed to cultivate strategic appeal for many CPG manufacturers thanks to a few unique selling points.

One such differentiator is IRI’s MULO-C market, which extends the standard MULO offering to include a sample of roughly 9% of all US convenience stores. Combined with its exclusive access to Costco and popular Texas supermarket chain H-E-B, IRI offers a number of insights not available anywhere else. It’s also the exclusive provider of retail data for the Kroger family of shopping brands, the largest of which can be found below:

Exclusive Retail Data

  • Kroger
    • QFC
    • Ralphs
    • Roundys
    • Harris Teeter
    • KING Soopers
    • Mariano’s
    • Fry’s Food Stores
    • Food 4 Less
    • Foods Co.
    • FredMeyer

Portal Data

  • Costco
  • H-E-B



Unlike Nielsen and IRI, SPINS is focuses mainly on the health and wellness ecosystem. While it may lack the mass-market reach of its bigger competitors, SPINS addresses the growing niche landscapes of natural, specialty, alternative, and gourmet product retailers, and thanks to a partnership deal, allows SPINS users to access IRI conventional data as well.

SPINS maintains exclusive data partnerships with 18 natural supermarkets, including major players like Sprouts Farmers Market. Its speciality and gourmet market data exclusivity extends to 28 discrete brands, such as Bristol Farms and The Fresh Market, and its stable of 10 alternative retailers includes McKay’s Market, Doc’s Food Stores and The Vitamin Shoppe. Combined, these partnerships make SPINS the easy choice for manufacturers looking to make a play for any of the smaller, health-forward customer segments that shop outside of the country’s highest-volume retailers.

With each data syndicator offering its own unique combination of insights and intelligence, CPG manufacturers have no shortage of options to choose from. Making the right decision is a matter of first investing time and energy into getting to know your customers, before reconciling that knowledge against the syndication landscape. Match the known shopping habits of your customer archetypes with the syndicators that provide overlapping data sets, and you’ll be well on your way to dominating your unique corner of the CPG market.