Traditional methods of dietary assessment have their limitations and commercial sources of food sales and purchase data are increasingly suggested as an additional source to measuring diet at the population level. However, the potential uses of food sales data are less well understood. The aim of this review is to establish how sales data on food and soft drink products from third-party companies have been used in public health nutrition research.
A search of five electronic databases was conducted in February-March 2018 for studies published in peer-reviewed journals that had used food sales or purchase data from a commercial company to analyse trends and patterns in food purchases or in the nutritional composition of foods. Study quality was evaluated using the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Quality Assessment Tool for Cohort and Cross-Sectional Studies.
Of 2919 papers identified in the search, 68 were included. The selected studies used sales or purchase data from four companies: Euromonitor, GfK, Kantar and Nielsen. Sales and purchase data have been used to evaluate interventions, including the impact of the saturated fat tax in Denmark, the soft drink and junk food taxes in Mexico and supplemental nutrition programmes in the USA. They have also been used to identify trends in the nutrient composition of foods over time and patterns in food purchasing, including socio-demographic variations in purchasing.
Food sales and purchase data are a valuable tool for public health nutrition researchers and their use has increased markedly in the last four years, despite the cost of access, the lack of transparency on data-collection methods and restrictions on publication. The availability of product and brand-level sales data means they are particularly useful for assessing how changes by individual food companies can impact on diet and public health.