As consumers choose an evening on the sofa over a night on the town, retailers can benefit from spur-of-the-moment sales

Autumn arrives, the barbecue goes back in the shed and the curtains are drawn at four o'clock. The pubs are pricey and anyone who smokes will be out in the street most of the evening anyway. It's hardly surprising, then, that more and more households are building their evening around entertainment at home, and as it's a film and a feast that's providing the perfect night in, it's the perfect opportunity for convenience retailers to maximise sales.
Manufacturers have been quick to seize on the trend and offer consumers the chance to bring the most enjoyable aspects of a night on the town into their own home. "Consumers are increasingly putting nights out on hold, in favour of inviting friends and family over for a get-together at home," says Andrea Taylor, trade relations manager for Mars Snackfoods. "Retailers can capitalise on this sales opportunity by stocking up on the top-selling sharing products that are popular at all times of the year."
Karen Salters, marketing director at Beverage Brands, says that changes in the pattern of alcoholic drinks sales reveal the extent of the move towards home entertaining. "The split between total drinks sales in take home versus the on trade is now almost 50/50, where traditionally the latter accounted for a much bigger proportion," she says. "The Big Night In occasion is playing a much bigger role in our social lives, and represents a major sales opportunity for retailers in the impulse sector."
Salters also points out that friends gathering at each others' homes is often a spur-of-the-moment decision. "There's a fair chance that when a shopper pops into a local store to buy RTDs like WKD they are on their way round to see their mates. Therefore, a chilled section featuring the major brands is an absolute must for retailers wanting to increase impulse sales."
The challenge for the retailer is to bring all of the elements of the event together. "The key to driving sales is to capitalise on the impulsive nature of your customers," says Taylor. "The Big Night In occasion is now so popular that retailers should consider dedicating specific areas of their store to the event by creating secondary displays of confectionery next to cold drinks, DVDs and ice cream." Mars has created merchandising equipment to complement the feature, such as a vertical chiller unit which can be attached to a chiller wall with suction caps and acts as a secondary siting for confectionery alongside other night-in purchases.
Andy Foweather, sales director of General Mills UK, adds that consumers who shop locally are likely to be on a mission to treat themselves, and will therefore focus on premium brands. He cites Häagen-Dazs ice cream as an example of a product that consumers associate with watching movies, and suggests retailers stock up to meet increased demand at weekends. The luxury ice cream market, up 11% in the year to July 2007 (IRI Grocery and Impulse Outlets), remains strong through the colder months, with half of all brand sales generated in winter.
The occasion also encourages consumers to choose premium confectionery lines, according to Dave McNulty of Kraft Foods. "Chocolate remains one of the top choices for the big night in, with a main trend driving the market being growth in the premium sector," he says. "Premium branded blocks in particular are up 16% on last year, worth £50m (AC Nielsen value sales January 2007) and we expect growth to continue for the next five years."
Milk chocolate blocks remain the number one selling variant, he says, but dark chocolate is the fastest growing premium variant year-on-year. According to the company, Kraft's Côte d'Or in both dark and milk is experiencing the biggest growth in the sector, up 198%.
Mars Snackfoods' Taylor says that 70% of confectionery sales are made on impulse and recommends Mars' bitesize pouches as a must stock for the Film Night In. The pouches have grown total sharing bags sales by 13% since their launch in 2005, says Mars, with Maltesers accounting for almost a quarter (23%) of the bitesize market.
Walkers puts the growth of the evening snacking sector down to changing social trends such as the breakdown of traditional meal patterns, and an increase in group sharing occasions such as friends and family gathering to watch films or sports events. It advises retailers that most sharing purchases occur between 5-7pm, with Friday and Saturday the busiest nights, and recommends taking a dynamic approach to merchandising, bringing sharing stands to the front of the store at these crucial times.
The company has identified two distinct sharing occasions and introduced different pack formats for each. For social sharing - four or more people - it recommends Sensations 175g bag or Doritos 245g, while the 105g and 140g packs are intended for an intimate evening in with a partner.
When it comes to hot food, simplicity and convenience are the buzzwords of the evening in. "Pizza is ideal for consumers looking for a quick-fix meal solution and the perfect accompaniment to a night in front of the television," says Fiona O'Keeffe, senior brand manager of Goodfella's. She sees the market moving more into convenient products, including handheld, but suggests that consumers will not be willing to sacrifice quality for convenience. Goodfella's Solos, individual pizzas which are ready to eat in 10 minutes, fit the film night model perfectly and are currently worth £17m with a 19% value share of the chilled and frozen pizza categories. "Display the product within the snacking sector as predominantly as possible, either at eye-level in a freezer or at the front of a well," says O'Keeffe.
Marketed specifically under the Big Night In banner, Kepak Convenience Foods' Rustlers range is targeted directly at informal home entertainment. "People who are planning a night in, whether it's a few beers with their mates or to watch a blockbuster movie, want tasty, filling snacks that can be prepared quickly and conveniently," says sales director Peter Fazal.
"One of the advantages of the Rustlers range is that each of the seven products can be cooked in
70 seconds, less than the time
it takes for a commercial break or
a movie trailer."

All the right moves

This month sees the release of the 20th anniversary edition DVD of Dirty Dancing, the classic Eighties smooch-fest, and the makers of Shloer expect it to be the focus of girly get-togethers.
This year Shloer launched a new white grape, mango and passion fruit 1ltr six-pack for wholesalers, allowing retailers to stock a range of Shloer flavours providing greater choice for consumers' big night in. Since the launch of the 1ltr six-pack, sales of Shloer white grape, mango and passionfruit have increased by 109%, says the company.

Starring role

The DVD rental market is changing rapidly, but convenience retailers are well placed to benefit from the shake-out.
As the turbulent time recently endured by the major high street DVD retailers suggests, consumers are finding new ways to acquire their favourite films for the night in front of the TV. But ChoicesUK sales director Rob Standen says the loss of the specialist rental shops is an excellent opportunity for c-stores. "We've calculated there is a £35m impulse opportunity in DVD rental," he says. "While top-end customers might move on to online renters like LoveFilm, the majority of consumers will be looking for an alternative source from a local store. We are talking to our symbol group customers in areas where a rental store has closed, and asking if they have a store nearby which could take on the business."
Choices is making the Big Night In concept the focus of its offer, with redesigned liveries and promotional materials.
Mitchell Leszczyszak of Original Video, which supplies automatic DVD rental machines to convenience stores, agrees there's plenty of demand for on-the-spot rental. "In 2006 there were more than 116 million DVD rental transactions in a market worth £330m in the UK alone, making consumer expenditure on DVD rental second in the entertainment and leisure goods and services category, behind drinking and eating out," he says. "The convenience sector is perfect for impulse rentals and the new formats for films - HD-DVD and Blu-Ray - will make piracy more difficult. Download times for feature films can be long, and the online ordering services can take days to deliver, so the local c-store is an ideal place to find a movie at short notice. Retailers who have placed our rental units at the centre of their store have not only attracted new customers, but also benefit from secondary sales as customers stock up for their night in."

Bundles of fun

"Independent retailers have sometimes been slower to respond to market trends, so it is important that they make the most of the Film Night In before the multiples do," says Jessica Wylie, United Biscuits UK's trade PR & communications manager.
She suggests retailers create a separate area to merchandise together complementary products such as sharing bags of crisps, wine or big bottles of soft drinks, ready meals, confectionery, tobacco and DVDs.
"There is no restriction on any potential special offers that independent retailers can create within their own stores," she adds. "In fact, it is not unheard of for the more savvy retailers to have created special offers on products bundled together from different manufacturers and available at a reduced price."