The major fmcg brands ramped up their promotional spending in 2009, boosting the total number to 82,000, up 44% on 2008. James Ball reports

On the surface, little has changed year-on-year: almost all the top 10 most promoted brands of 2009 were in the top 10 last year and last year's top five remained there this year. But first appearances can be deceiving, as it's been a far from stagnant year for branded promotions.

The smallest increase in activity in the top 10 this year was Müller's 28.7%, while Cadbury the UK's most-promoted brand for a second year almost doubled its activity, giving it almost twice the number of featured space offers as second-placed Birds Eye.

The Assosia data to the year ending 18 December, which counts featured space offers across the major retailers, reveals the extent of this year's promotional push. Cadbury has taken the lead in propping up the sluggish confectionery category with its aggressive tactics its deal tally soaring to more than 2,500.

Despite its broader product range, Nestlé trailed significantly, with 1,400 promotions, while Mars did not even make the top 10.

Birds Eye's ascent to second place was fuelled by Asda's year-long commitment to high-profile round-pound deals in the frozen category.

The UK's biggest frozen brand carried out significant pack size changes to create products suited to the offers, leading to a hefty 45% increase in its featured space deals year-on-year.

Yet despite this frenetic activity at the top of the table, it was ninth-placed Walkers that had the biggest upsurge in offers, with a 113% increase in deals, bringing it into the top 10 from 16th place last year.

The drive appears to have paid off, too, judging by its solid sales growth, which outstripped that of the snacks category as a whole.

The other new entrant into the top 10 was Fox's, Northern Foods' biscuits brand, which has been keen to support its television advertising push with substantial in-store activity.

Overall, the top 10 promoters had more than 11,000 deals between them the first time the number of deals has been in five digits and carried out 60% more promotions than last year.

But other branded players have hardly been idle: the total number of featured space branded deals across the six major retailers leapt from about 57,000 to almost 82,000 a 44% increase.

Promotions are the 'new normal' for fmcg brands. But as deals are both costly and erode value perceptions, everyone else will doubtless be hoping 2010 is the year when someone finally blinks.