The big night in may mean different things to different shoppers, but 
it is an opportunity our C-Store Champions are each exploiting

Harj Dhasee, owner of Nisa Village Stores, Mickleton, Gloucestershire

Harj says this occasion is a huge and growing category as people are chosing to socialise at home more.

Mark Canniford, owner of Spar stores, Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

Mark has had to react to a big shift in the way big night in shoppers shop from one season to the next.

Guy Warner, owner of six Warner’s Budgens, the Cotswolds

A wide range of frozen ready meals and cook-from-scratch ingredients are all popular at Guy’s stores.

Paul Stone, owner of seven Spar stores in Greater Manchester

A partnership with Deliveroo to offer a drinks delivery service cashes in on the big night in occasion.

Have you noticed customer behaviour changing with regard to staying in/going out?

Harj: I think Friday night is the big night for this occasion. On a Friday night, parents are feeling lazy and want a nice easy meal for themselves and a separate easy meal to cook for the kids. They might choose a pizza and chips for the kids and a gourmet lasagne ready meal for themselves, with garlic bread and wine. I do think people go out less and most cut their number of nights out down to once a week. The key is for it to be easy to cook. People don’t want to cook from scratch on a Friday night.

Mark: Certainly over new year this year there was a shift towards staying in. It was huge and we were actually caught out by it a bit, but it’s good to know for future years. From week to week it can be hit and miss. My feeling is that it’s less of one big night in and more lots of little nights in. We have to always have a good variety of shared snacking pizzas, quick and easy food for staying in with friends. I have also found this staying in and socialising with friends is particularly popular among Eastern Europeans who like to do a lot of hosting and socialising in the evenings after work. The English seem to pretty much hide away in the evenings when it’s dark and cold.

Guy: There has been a rise in the popularity of staying in and also cooking from scratch. This has meant that we need to cater for a wider range of ‘unusual’ ingredient requests. Since we increased our fresh herbs and chillies range, sales have been consistently good and the range we have available is vast considering the size of the store. We also have a large Cook frozen food area in the store which delivers significant sales every week. The range and quality of these products means that customers can create a restaurant-quality meal at home without any hassle, whether it be Indian, Thai, Chinese or even something like macaroni cheese. Our alcohol sales are also increasing as people are choosing to stay at home rather than go to the pub. We have found that our fine wine range is very well shopped, particularly at the weekend when customers are happy to ‘trade up’ for a treat.

Paul: That’s a difficult one to answer. We did notice people staying in a lot more when the recession hit, but since people have started to feel like they have a bit of money to spend they are starting to go out again, but choosing to drink at home more. The recession encouraged people to do this and the mentality has remained somewhat. We’ve also noticed an increase in sales of pre-mixed cans and flavoured ciders and this may be because people are looking to buy products similar to those they could get in a bar.

How important is the big night in occasion for your business?

Harj: It’s huge for my business and it’s growing. There’s been a massive shift in the way people socialise. Because of social media, people don’t feel the need to socialise face-to-face so often. Whereas before we might have met up with friends two or three evenings a week, now they meet once a week. A Friday always used to mean meeting at a pub after work and staying there through dinner, but that’s much less common now. People want to save money by drinking and socialising at home. The average basket spend for these shoppers is £15-£20.

Mark: It’s very important. We’ve got to fulfil the whole mission: the dinner, sides, the snacks, desserts, soft drinks and alcohol. If we can’t provide one element of their meal idea then they will go somewhere else to buy the whole lot. The average basket spend of these shoppers buying a meal for tonight for two is probably £10-£11.

Guy: It is an important part of the business. As mentioned, it has led to a rise in sales across several categories in store.

Paul: It’s crucial to our business.

Have you noticed a rise in meal delivery services in your area such as Just Eat, Deliveroo and Domino’s Pizza. Do you regard them as a threat or an opportunity?

Harj: No, not in my area as we are a little village in the Cotswolds.

Mark: Massively! Certainly in this area there’s been a huge increase in the amount of take-aways, especially the Turkish style places – I suppose you’d call them kebab shops. We’ve probably had three open in the past 12 months and that’s with three or four already there. I would really like to provide a dinner food-to-go offering but I don’t have the space to have a full kitchen in the store. I was really impressed when I read in Convenience Store about Chris Ward, who owns Spar in Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire, and he’s managed to set up a whole Sunday dinner offering. I’d love to be able to do this.

Guy: As our stores are in fairly rural areas, meal delivery services do not tend to operate, so we need to have the options available to deliver the ‘food for now’ mission. We make our own pizzas and have fresh curries available on our deli counter.

Paul: We have partnered with Deliveroo ourselves to offer 90 SKUs of drinks and snacks. In December we were getting average order sizes of £100 as people were buying premium mixers and Champagne, but in January it fell to £20. In each of the four stores we get six to eight orders through Deliveroo each week.

Do you have a designated big night in area in store?

Harj: Not yet, but I plan to create one within the next six weeks.

Mark: There’s not really space in our store – under 1,500sq ft – to have a designated area for this offering, but we do make a point of using POS material to draw attention to whatever meals are being promoted and we will move other products next to them. So we will put the lasagne with the garlic bread and the salad bags.

Guy: We merchandise wine – particularly promotion wine – close to the curry section on the deli counter, and also locate the relevant accompaniments such as papadums and chutneys close by. We don’t currently have a big night in area, but it’s possibly something to look at it the future. As the majority of our beers and wines are chilled, this is obviously a good draw for customers as they know they can pick up something to take home and consume straight away. 

Paul: Yes. It’s mostly filled with sharing packs of snacking products, alcohol, plastic cups and ping pong balls [for playing beer pong] to cater to students hosting parties.

How do you change this offering throughout the week?

Harj: The dump bins at the queueing area are filled with crumpets and bakery items Monday to Thursday but from Thursday night and through the weekend we fill these with impulse ‘big night in’ drinks and snacks to try to increase basket spend by £2-3.

Mark: We don’t change it throughout the week but we do have Spar’s rolling promotions which come round every three weeks. It’s important to change our POS material and the positioning of the products in line with these promotions to keep the offer interesting for customers. We do slightly change the way we work in the different seasons, though. In the winter we have to ensure the shelves are well stocked by 5pm ready for a big rush between 5pm and 7pm, and after that it goes very quiet. Whereas in the summer we will have people popping in throughout the evening. In the summer it’s nice to stroll to the shop if you realise you’ve run out of something, but in the winter us British don’t like to leave the house again once we’re in that front door. I have noticed that Eastern Europeans shoppers are less likely to follow this pattern.

Guy: We don’t.

Paul: We don’t change it throughout the week but we have a three-weekly promotion on alcohol. There’s a three-weekly Spar leaflet which informs of promotions such as this.

Any plans to improve your offering for the mission?

Harj: We are hoping to get Cook freezers or another high-quality frozen ready meals supplier, which we would like to merchandise alongside our other big night in foods such as the pizza and ready meals, as well as snacks and drinks. The key is to provide good value for money and high quality. It can be very difficult for independents to source really good quality ready meal solutions. We’ve managed to source some locally. We have Cotswold puddings and Cotswold Traiteur frozen ready meals, which are very high quality.

Mark: We are designing a new food-to-go range and hoping to start doing more of an evening food-to-go range as well.

Guy: No plans currently. The introduction of the Cook area of the store has been a huge improvement in our offering to customers for their big night in, and is something that we still need to push the full potential of.

Paul: As well as being a partner of Deliveroo, we have just partnered with UberEats, which will kick off in February.

What type of shopper buys into this occasion?

Harj: Different ages of shoppers come in for different meal solutions. While the younger crowd will be coming in looking to cater for their house party with snacks, lots of crisps and dips and drinks, parents are coming in looking for a full meal solution to suit the whole family. Females aged 18-30 might pick up some prosecco, grab bags of Doritos and dips and get take-away. Males aged 18-30 might pick up a pack of beer and pizza. For OAPs, their Sunday night is like their big night in as this is when they might have family around for a Sunday roast. Or they might be going to a family member for Sunday roast in which case they’ll buy something to take with them and some sweets for the children.

Mark: The main people on this mission are young professionals who don’t have any children and therefore have less concern for the cost.

Guy: This is definitely the ‘after work’ shopper - calling in on their way home from work wanting to pick up all they need for their night in without having to go elsewhere as well.

Paul: It’s fairly universal. Three of my stores have a high proportion of student shoppers so I could say it’s the younger generation, the students who are having the parties and gatherings, but through December we noticed a lot of people were staying in to make a night of the Saturday night TV such as The X Factor. It also varies depending on the event. When big football matches are on I will change my offer so we have plenty of pizza or curry and beer. I’ve linked up with several different suppliers in the past to offer cross-category promotions such as this.