Going out seems to have lost some of its allure of late. Bars and clubs are pricey, taxis aren't cheap and can be harder to find than hen's teeth when you need them, and counting up how much a night out will cost certainly takes the shine off a good time. So C-Store decided that it would do what so many in the UK are doing every weekend and invite a few friends home for a budget night of games and fun.

The vital ingredient to our evening would be the food and drink, and so five of us headed to the local convenience store, Three2Four in Hove, East Sussex.

The choice was vast, with a big selection of frozen meals, rows of tempting share bags of crisps and dips, and oceans of beers and wine.

The first items to go in the basket were a large bag of Doritos and salsa. Judging by the number of such lines in the store, it's not just us who are fond of crisps. In fact, the bagged snacks market is currently worth £2.2bn and has grown 7% year on year (Nielsen 52 weeks to October 10, 2009). This growth is mirrored by the premium bagged snacks market which has also grown 7% and is worth £517m.

United Biscuits UK commercial manager Nick Stuart believes their growth in popularity is easy to explain: "Snacks are seen as relatively inexpensive treat, so consumers are more likely to trade up if they are not going to spend the money on going out.

"Retailers should look to take advantage of the increasing adult trend and make sure they are well-stocked up on premium lines such as Phileas Fogg and KP Nuts to generate incremental sales."

For a more substantial nibble our crowd plumped for pizza Goodfella's Delicia Margherita some oven chips and, to spice things up, Daloon's Indian Classics mini snacks comprising mixed vegetable samosas and mini onion bhajis that are perfect for sharing, and also for the veggies in the group.

Like the crisps market, frozen ethnic snacks have also seen a growth in the past two years with a 33.5% increase in value sales between September 2007 and 2009 (TNS 52 weeks to September 2009). Daloon Foods managing director Geoff Burgess says: "They are value for money, versatile snacks that are ideal for a variety of eating at home occasions, and as they're stored in the freezer there's no unnecessary waste."

Go with the flow

To make our games night run smoothly liquid refreshments were also required; beer for the boys and wine for the girls.

Heineken head of customer marketing Shaun Heyes says that to take advantage of the staying at home trend, retailers should start displaying alcohol by occasion rather than by abv.

"Our research shows that consumers mainly shop for beer on Friday and Saturday evenings for weekend social occasions such as Big Night In. So categorising an alcohol aisle in this manner will open up a great number of growth opportunities for retailers, such as creating promotions that add interest and value to the category while meeting the target audience's needs."

Constellation Europe sales and marketing vice-president Claire Griffiths says that the growing popularity for entertaining at home has helped lift wine sales in the past 12 months. "The off trade has seen value sales growth of 6.2%, which is significantly better than how the on-trade is performing," she says.

She adds that the growth in wine sales also boosts customer spend in stores and that it's worthwhile promoting wines to customers. "An average shopper in a convenience store spends £4.79, whereas adding wine increases the spend to £11.53," she says. "This means that getting shoppers to add a bottle of wine to their basket increases spend by 140%."

As well as the strong stuff, we added something soft, too. When the new year rolls round many people aim for healthier living by giving up or cutting down on alcohol and there's always the drivers to consider. They still want to enjoy themselves, so some soft drinks are essential. According to Shloer marketing communications controller Amanda Grabham, most hosts don't plan for this until the last minute.

"When it comes to providing an alternative to alcohol, many consumers don't start thinking about what they are going to offer until they are shopping for the occasion, or they pop out to pick up the soft drinks just before the event," says Grabham. "These purchasing patterns present a prime opportunity for convenience stores, which are in an ideal position to capture these impulse/distress purchases."

Grabham adds that many convenience store retailers haven't yet tuned in to the opportunity offered by adult soft drinks.

"It's a sector worth more than £105m (Nielsen Scantrack, MAT Value May 9, 2009) and it's ripe for development in impulse outlets which clearly stand to benefit from the increase in entertaining at home," she adds.

According to Britvic sales director Murray Harris, 39% of adults have a Big Night In at least once a fortnight. "The Big Night In is no longer just a trend; it is part of many consumers' lives," he says. "People are re-evaluating where they are spending their money."

He adds that retailers can benefit by stocking larger sizes of products. "Our research shows that the Big Night In usually consists of mixed groups of three or four and is particularly prevalent among the 18- to 34-year-old age group," says Harris. "It is therefore vital that retailers stock up on 2ltr and multipacks of the big brand favourites to cater for these occasions."

When it comes to favourites, it's hard to top the popularity of cola drinks. Even with the energy sector nipping at its heels, the public is still favouring this area.

Coca-Cola trade communications manager Selena Taylor says that cola drinks should continue to be high on retailers' priorities when stocking. "The cola sector makes up 22% of the soft drinks category and is worth £1.3bn in retail sales," she says. "Colas are still a dominant sector and are experiencing a year-on-year sales growth of 2.7% (Nielsen Data Total Coverage 52 weeks to December 19, 2009)."

So now stocked up on Coke, beer and wine we head to the checkout and remember we've forgotten the sweet treats and grab a handful of sharing bags of bitesize chocs. Bitesize is another growing sector and Cadbury's trade communications manager Kate Harding says its bitesize bags are showing a steady performance. "We launched the bitesize range in 2009 and it's already worth £21.9m," she said. "The range saw more growth with the introduction of Caramel Nibbles in June which grew the category by 38%."

When it's all bought and paid for we head home, loaded up with goodies, for a night of Playstation action and brain boggling Scrabble. Whether your customers are battling aliens or stretching their vocabulary, catering for a Big Night In is certain to be a winner.