LIDA announces partnership with Sainsbury’s

Leeds Institute for Data Analytics and Sainsbury’s have formalised a partnership to deliver data intensive research projects in nutrition and health, property and location analytics, and e-commerce.

Teams from both organisations will work together on challenges aligned with Sainsbury’s Net Zero strategy, which also offer the potential for academic advancement and the opportunity to generate valuable societal insights.  

The partnership, which builds on ten years of successful collaboration between the University and Sainsbury’s, will formalise working practices and provide associated researchers with access to dedicated virtual research environments.

Our aim is to use data to tackle real world challenges and to do this we benefit enormously from working in partnership with the organisations facing those challenges.


Professor Mark Birkin, LIDA Co-Director explains:

LIDA does not undertake research in isolation. Our aim is to use data to tackle real world challenges and to do this we benefit enormously from working in partnership with the organisations facing those challenges. 

"Formalising our relationship with Sainsbury’s was a natural progression for LIDA, building on a successful history of collaboration and a shared commitment to using data, in a safe and secure way, to better understand human behaviour.”

Our collaboration with LIDA has allowed us to refine our data through a health lens, in ways we had not achieved previously.


The partnership in practice

There are several projects underway which are already generating insights into consumer behaviours, using anonymised transaction data. 

While each project is different, all are co-produced, with teams from LIDA and Sainsbury’s involved throughout the research lifecycle.  

The project teams are both cross-sectoral and multidisciplinary, with LIDA researchers bringing data science expertise and specialist knowledge from a range of academic domains, while the Sainsbury’s team provide extensive commercial expertise and anonymised contextual data extracts.   

Understanding food sales from a nutrition, health and sustainability perspective

Health Analytics researchers at LIDA are working in collaboration with the healthy lifestyles team at Sainsbury’s to better understand patterns in sales of food and drink from a nutrition, health and sustainability perspective.

Using data on household food and drink sales at an individual product level, at scale and over an extended time period has not been possible in Nutrition research to date as access to these commercial data requires significant investment in secure data infrastructure, data science expertise and in this case nutrition expertise.

These have come together in the Nutrition and Lifestyle Analytics team at LIDA, in collaboration with the Consumer Data Research Centre.

The current National Food Strategy and Obesity Strategy place strong emphasis on improving diets, for which retailers will play an important role. This collaboration will enable the co-production of data-led nutrition research and innovation to make real-world impacts.

Nilani Sritharan, Group Healthy Living Manager, Sainsbury's said:

“Our vision is to help customers Live Well for Less, with an ambition to develop and deliver healthy and sustainable diets for all.  Data insight is critical to our journey to help customers to Eat Well. 

"Our collaboration with LIDA has allowed us to refine our data through a health lens, in ways that we had not achieved previously.  These insights, methodologies and principles provide proof of concepts and learnings that we can leverage internally to deliver deeper insights and data-driven decision making.”

Exploring evolving consumer behaviours

Researchers from the School of Geography have been working with the location planning and property analytics teams for several years, using retail modelling expertise to increase understanding of the Sainsbury’s store network from a spatial perspective and developing bespoke tools to support store location planning. 

This partnership will enable a new phase of collaboration focusing on more computationally intensive model building to capture evolving consumer behaviours and reflect the ever-changing retail supply side and the shift to e-commerce within this sector.

Increasingly rich observations of consumer activity will create opportunities for growing engagement with academic experts in new domains such as pattern mining and choice modelling, and exploiting LIDA’s connections to the latest research in computing, mathematics, economics and transport/ mobility.

Safe and Secure Research Environment

Both LIDA and Sainsbury’s are committed to ensuring that all projects are undertaken in a safe and secure way with researchers adhering to the high standards of data quality, access and protection.

Sainsbury’s provide anonymised data extracts which approved LIDA researchers analyse in an independently accredited and certified virtual research environment at LIDA.

Developing Data Science Capability

In addition to developing a comprehensive programme of research, LIDA and Sainsbury’s are also working together to provide opportunities for LIDA postgraduate researchers to gain practical experience of data science in retail.   This includes guest lectures, student placements, sponsorship and co-production of PhD projects. 

Ryan Urquhart, PhD Student, ESRC Data Analytics and Society Centre for Doctoral Training said:

"Working with the team at Sainsbury's has allowed me to really focus on the applied element of my research. Invaluable insights and knowledge into how e-commerce services are operated, monitored and evaluated by a national brand have greatly supported my understanding of the subject area.”