What’s on offer? The types of food and drink on price promotion in retail outlets in the Republic of Ireland

Sinéad Furey, C Mc Laughlin, L.E. Hollywood, Amy Burns, U McMahon-Beattie,, RK Price, P Humphreys, Mary McCarthy, Alan Collins, Monique Raats, Mimi Tatlow-Golden, Moira Dean, Celine Murrin

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned reportpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Aim: This research set out to provide data on the types of foods sold on promotional offer in retail
stores in the Republic of Ireland (ROI). The specific objectives were to:

 Independently audit the type and nutritional quality of food and drink on promotional offer in retail outlets in ROI
 Understand the perceptions of food retailers relating to promotional offers and their influence on consumers’ purchasing behaviour in the context of the ROI food retail environment
 Investigate the different factors influencing the retailers’ commitment to promoting certain foods using promotions
 Understand consumers’ perceptions and motivations to select and purchase, as affected by promotional activity
 Propose recommendations for creating a healthy shopping environment to increase consumer accessibility, affordability and acceptability to healthier food products sold on promotion
In-store audit: A total of 69,620 food products on promotional offer were identified from the audit of a range of supermarkets, discounters, and convenience stores in summer 2016 (July/August) and spring 2017 (February/March). The products were categorised in-line with the food pyramid and also categorised using a nutritional quality score. More than one-third (35%) of the total sample of food and drinks audited were categorised as high in fat, sugar and salt, a clear over-representation of their distribution in the food pyramid. This figure increased to 56.1% for the amount of high fat, sugar and
salt foods on promotion in convenience stores. The nutritional quality score was based on the energy, fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt levels of each food product, rated as high, medium or low nutritional quality. Using this measure, almost equal proportions of foods classified as having a low (27.8%) or
medium (27.3%) quality score while 45% of the foods audited had a high nutritional quality score. Most promotions were price-based i.e. reduced price or volume-based i.e. receiving more of a product for the regular retail price.

Online audit: Information was collected on 786 products that were being promoted by two retailers during a 12-month period in 2016-17. The results are similar to those of the in-store audit in that there was an over-representation of foods high in fat, sugar and salt on promotion, particularly during the winter season.

Stakeholder interviews: Interviews with a sample (N=14) of retailers and public health stakeholders about retail food promotions identified three main themes:
1. Importance of health in promotional strategies
2. Profit before health
3. Policy engenders action

Retailers variously cited health and customer value as central to their promotional strategies. There was also recognition that future policymaking requires retailers to ensure that retail settings are health-focused.

Consumer survey: The survey explored consumer perceptions and behaviours of foods sold on promotion. The survey was conducted across ROI with the primary household shopper (n=1948). The majority of consumers reported that they regularly bought food on promotion (91.6%) and showed a preference for “price reductions that offer a cost saving” (92.9% reported buying these always, almost
every time, occasionally or sometimes) and volume-based (“Buy One get One Free”) types of promotions (85.4%). Three different types of consumers were identified from the survey based on what food and drink they want to see on promotion: promotional health rounded; promotional deal prone; promotional 5-a-dayer. Shoppers were also classed based on what food and drink that they
purchase on promotional offer: daily staples purchasers; 5-a-day purchasers; and deal prone purchasers. It was clear that consumers’ motivations for buying food on promotion is variable as consumers engage differently with promotional food items depending on the product category on promotion and the consumers’ impulsivity, health consciousness, deal proneness and use of shopping list.

Accompanied shop: The accompanied shopping exercise with 50 participants identified primarily positive attitudes towards food retail promotions due to their contribution to cost savings, particularly on branded products. All shoppers displayed a level of awareness regarding the availability of promotions on offer, however the way in which they choose to respond to them differed with six
clear consumer behaviours relating to:
1. Bargains that benefit the household budget - shoppers liked to shop at a range of stores based on the promotional offers available
2. The buzz of a bargain - some shoppers thrived on getting a bargain
3. Savvy stockpiling - shoppers stockpiled items to make long-term savings
4. Active avoidance of available offers - shoppers chose not to browse the confectionery aisle
5. Reliance on regular reductions - shoppers expected fruit and vegetables and meat to be on regular promotion
6. Using deals to dictate dinner - the promotional offer became the focal point for dinner

Conclusion: Thirty five per cent of food promotions were from the top shelf of the food pyramid (foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt) indicating an over representation of these foods by ROI retailers. It is clear that promotions are considered and accepted by consumers to be a part of the shopping experience and indeed are a key influence on purchasing behaviour. However, the profit and
health agendas of retailers and public health representatives remain at odds in terms of consistency between policy and practice.

 Encourage retailers to use the food pyramid in retail planning as a means of assessing the proportions of healthy and unhealthy foods on promotional offer.
 Encourage retailers to promote food and drink in line with the balance of the food pyramid
o reduce the promotion of food and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt
o increase the frequenc and prominence of healthy promotions instore and online to encourage their uptake
o exploit volume-based promotions in favour of healthy foods.
 Use research data and insights to target healthier food promotions to different consumer sub-groups.
 Monitor the types of food and drinks on price promotion.
 Promote consumer awareness on how healthy foods on price promotion can be used in meal planning.
 Promote consumer awareness of strategies that can be used to shop in a way that supports healthy eating guidelines.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationCork
Commissioning bodySafefood, the Food Safety Promotion Board
Number of pages94
ISBN (Print)978-1-905767-86-1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 17 Jan 2019


  • Food
  • Retail Promotions
  • Healthy


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