As consumers find more and more reasons to get together indoors, retailers who create a strong Big Night In fixture are set to benefit.
Whether you blame the awful autumn weather, or the price of a pint, Britain seems to be turning into a nation that loves a Big Night In just as much as a Big Night Out.
Part of the reason for this continuing trend for staying in could be that we’re all watching the pennies. According to Mintel, more than a third (36%) of households cut their spending on eating out last year, with a similar amount (35%) slashing their spend on out-of-home alcohol as well.
It’s something that Amandeep Singh, from Family Shopper in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, has seen first-hand. “I really do think that over the past couple of years staying in has become the new going out,” he says.
“A while back only 10-15% of people would stay in on a Friday or Saturday night - and now that’s completely changed. I think it’s because going out is now seen as really expensive. You’re paying three pounds for a pint in a pub, while I’m offering four pints for £5.50. There’s definitely value there.”
Yet this isn’t the whole story. Even though money might be tighter we still want to be sociable - and from Game of Thrones box sets to ad-hoc dinner parties, there are now more occasions than ever before to get together, eat, drink and be merry.
As well as must-see TV such as The X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing, another ‘pull factor’ to a friend’s couch is the rise of console games, which aren’t just for the young ‘uns anymore.
“Even the older people now are on PlayStations!” says Barrie Seymour, owner of Londis Littletown in West Yorkshire. “They’re definitely not just for young kids: you can play people from all over the world, and I know football lads that have Fifa nights; they buy a load of beer and crisps, go round someone’s house and play Fifa all evening.”
The truth is that with all the options available, a Big Night In could be just about anything, as Paul Stone, who owns five Spar stores in Manchester, points out.
“Basically, Big Night In means so many different things these days. There’s TV everyone wants to watch, or a box set, or even double Corrie! Nick Grimshaw’s always talking on Radio 1 about how he and his friends come round and watch double Corrie on a Monday night. Add some food and drinks and that’s a Big Night In, ” says Paul.
It’s worth remembering, too, that as well as the virtual football, the Rugby World Cup is bringing sports fans together in front of the telly this year. Budgens’ director Mike Baker says this could mean a bumper year for the category. “We’re expecting the Big Night In theme to really take off this autumn,” he says. “When the weather changes people like to stay at home a bit more and that means stocking up on comfort food, drinks and treats. This year there’s the added draw of the Rugby World Cup to keep people entertained at home so we’re expecting it to be bigger than ever.”
The group intends to use spider fridges during the tournament to showcase its best offers, including deals on pizza, garlic bread and Coca-Cola combos, “and for those looking to escape the rugby we’ll be offering free Now TV monthly passes with sales of £15 or over in-store,” Baker says.
So, with the scene set for big sales how can c-stores attract more shoppers to buy take-home drinks and snacks?
Blake Gladman from HIM Research & Consulting says that a bigger shopfloor push from retailers would certainly help drive more customers in-store. “Research shows that 68% of shoppers would be encouraged to visit a c-store more if they got behind seasonal events, and 71% for regular events such as parties, BBQ or Big Night In,” he says.
All of which means that it’s a no-brainer for c-stores to go big with the occasion. After all, snacks and alcohol are home territory for the traditional store.
Yet Paul says that despite this compelling evidence, it’s a category that often gets overlooked in the rush to develop other areas. “It’s very important to us as retailers and historically always has been,” he maintains.
“But I believe it’s quite often neglected by stores. That’s because as retailers we’re always trying to drive missions around healthy eating, fresh and food to go. They’re a good focus to have, but because of that we sometimes miss out on the Big Night In bit of the business. Stores are only so big, and if you give too much room to fresh or food to go then something else is going to be condensed - and often that’s products such as spirits.”
HIM highlights the idea of the post-5pm shopper: that tired top-up shopper who doesn’t need much persuading to grab a six-pack and some snacks. He or she might be ready for a quiet night in, or they might be preparing for watching telly with their mates - the point is that they’ll probably be open to suggestions on what to buy if they’re offered it explicitly. In fact, 17% of these shoppers buy something on impulse, which means there’s scope to tempt them with Big Night In staples alcohol, confectionery and soft drinks.
Gladman believes retailers can unlock the Big Night In category by working on their impulse range, stocking sharing bags of crisps and confectionery and investing in POS material around a Big Night In fixture.
Paul reckons that these evening shoppers are essential to trade. “Those other missions like food to go are great at getting people in for the morning or afternoon to buy something,” he says, “but Big Night In definitely takes over in the evening - especially for people who’ve had a bad day and want to pick up alcohol, or who have friends coming round.”
To truly maximize these impulse shoppers Amandeep is one of a rising tide of retailers who’s created a dedicated Big Night In fixture. In his store this means an area, featuring a different colour design from the rest of the shop, comprising five-metre chillers of lager, RTDs, cider and real ale, plus room for wine.
“Around that is where all of the snacks go - so we’ve got big sharing bags of crisps, peanuts, chocolate and everything you’d associate with a Big Night In,” he says.
Amandeep says that the fixture has gone down “incredibly well” since he set up this secondary site. “It’s all about the way customers’ brains are geared up,” he says. “Previously, people would just come over for beer and then ignore everything else. Here, because you’re putting other products in front of someone, you’re triggering an impulse - they didn’t necessarily know they wanted food until they saw it there in the store.”
Paul Stone has worked hard to make the Big Night fixture fly at his new store by grouping the shopper mission together. He explains that the crisps display is now split into two: the big sharing bags are near the alcohol and the single-serve bags are in the ‘Feed Me Now’ zone in the front of the store. “Alcohol is what can bring it together, but it’s important to remember that the category isn’t just about alcohol,” he says. “It can be around ice cream, pizza or sharing bags of snacks.”
Nisa retailer Anish Keshwara has been developing his Big Night In offering, too. He recently worked with Dr Oetker to improve the Big Night In fixture at his Victory Avenue store in Cambridgeshire. The display already boasted Big Night In POS material and a selection of crisps and soft drinks, situated alongside an ice cream freezer and alcohol. But by introducing confectionery pouches and additional snacking lines to the fixture, along with pizzas and chips to the freezer, sales have gone through the roof, with sales of pizza alone up 61%. “The project has inspired us to add to the category and develop chilled pizza and curry meal deals with alcohol under the Big Night In theme,” says Anish.
“You need to inspire customers when they walk in. If you can provide a quick, complete solution - be it a snack selection or an easy meal, plus drinks, you can give them the whole package.”
Indeed, retailers must take time to really think about how their Big Night In offering can capture shoppers’ imaginations. To make it work, stores need what Barrie calls the ‘wow factor’. “Big Night In is not about buying some Pringles and putting a few out,” he says. “It’s about getting four boxes out on the shopfloor and then putting a big sign on them. Then you give customers the ‘wow’ factor - which I’m a really big believer in.
“We don’t have a big warehouse, but even if you do what’s the point of having 30 cases of beer in the back? Stack a big pile of 12 on the shop floor, make a tower that goes to the ceiling and get people involved; you’ll get instant wow factor. That really works for us.”
Some retailers have used tie-in deals to promote the Big Night In: offering a pack of beer and some Doritos at a set price, for example. Barrie says he has tried this approach, but it didn’t really suit his core shoppers. “I found that it didn’t really work for us,’ he says. “I think that in a city centre store it could make a difference, but our customers like to come in, get what they need and go, rather than hunting out deals.”
Those towers might be impressive in themselves (and take some strong arms to put up successfully), but the main engine of Barrie’s Big Night In offer is an ice cream fixture in the middle of the alcohol, so people can pick up some Ben & Jerry’s along with their wine. Also, there’s the appeal of those aforementioned Pringles, or some share bags of Doritos situated near the alcohol, which go down especially well when they’re on promotion.
However, one Big Night In component that Barrie’s believes he is under-capitalising on is ice. “I’m looking at getting another 2ft x 2ft freezer just to put ice in,” he says. “At the moment we don’t seem to be able to keep up with demand for it. We sell from three to six boxes of ice a week and could certainly sell much more.”
Wine is another runaway success, so much so that Barrie is thinking about putting in another fixture to keep up with volume - and there’s one sparkling variety that’s definitely a hit with the Big Night In crowd out for a bubble: Prosecco. “I brought in another 10 cases today - it’s just been phenomenal,” he says. “It’s on promotion and I know that we’ll do all these 10 cases in just this weekend. I reckon that with Champagne, well, it’s very dry and you have to have a taste for it. People are just going mad for Prosecco.”
Whether it’s a case of Stella Artois or a bottle of bubbles, alcohol is certainly a large part of any Big Night In offer. Despite signs of the economy picking up, the last Mintel report on Drinking in the Home revealed there are still many more consumers drinking at home than at the pub. Meanwhile, just over half of adults drink alcohol at home a least once a week.
This means that pubs are closing, or turning to food rather than booze as their main offer. This is a big change - and one that c-store retailers with Big Night In offers believe they can make the most of.
Paul Stone points out that as people’s choice of drinking venue changes, so does their taste in alcohol. “I think even the beer boys are changing their ways,” he says. “There’s research to show that younger males aren’t drinking as much beer and so they’re moving on to pre-mixed drinks.
“The Manchester Pride festival is a really big event for us, and what we saw this year was a lot of demand for pre-mixed cans, such as gin and tonic or Pimm’s, which people were taking home with them to parties. It’s those kinds of things that are doing really well for us at the moment and I think it’s where the wider market is moving - in Manchester, anyway.”
In addition to pre-mixed drinks, Paul also makes a point of tapping into the current vogue for premium artisan spirits such as Sailor Jerry spiced rum, to energise sales and offer something different to a clued-up c-store audience.
Some of the drinks aren’t yet available through the mainstream wholesaler system, but he hopes that by showing that they can do well, they’ll eventually begin to be introduced.
“I’m a big believer in good spirit displays behind the counter that really do the category justice,” he says. “Spirit sales are not something our competitors do very well, to be honest. So when you walk into a local Tesco Express and you see the little display behind the counter I don’t think that it really inspires you in any way. In our stores we like to show that we’re in the market for spirits. So we double-face everything and try to go more premium to signpost the category with brands such as Kraken, Grey Goose or Sailor Jerry. These immediately create interest: people look over and go ‘Ooh - what’s that?’.”
But you don’t have to go down the premium route to provide a good Big Night In offering - as long as you get the basics right. A striking fixture of sharing options, alongside soft drinks, alcohol and maybe even frozen, can work wonders. As Anish says: “You’ve already got all the stuff, so it’s just a case of putting it together and inspiring customers. It’s worth giving it a go.”
Rustlers has the answer to hot food in a hurry, with a range that can be microwaved quickly for a crowd hungry for the big game. Variants include the Rustlers Quarter Pounder, Chicken Sandwich and Tikka Chicken Hot Naan.
Freezer packs of Mars ice cream
Mars’ Variety Mini Mix Pack has something for everyone to munch while they sit around the telly or games console. Packs contain Snickers, Bounty and Mars ice-cream in a convenient pack.
Savoury snacks from Ritz
Savoury, as well as sweet, has a key place in Big Night In and Ritz is hoping to expand its place at the table with baked potato snack Crisp & Thin. Available in sharing bags, flavours include Sweet Red Chilli and Sea Salt & Black Pepper.
Perfect pizza portions
Not too big and not too small, Dr Oetker believes its latest medium Chicago Town Stuffed Crust Sloppy Joe and Stuffed Crust New Yorker are just right. The range extension aims to bring new consumers to the brand who may have seen the larger size as a barrier. In addition, Chicago Town is giving consumers a chance to ‘Win a dinosaur’ by buying special-edition packs. A Hasbro dinosaur can be won every 15 minutes from 8am to 8pm every day.
mixing it with the cocktail crowd
As well as providing the focus for a Big Night In experience, hit Channel 4 show Gogglebox is shaping the trend, too - as more people make like posh couple Steph and Dom and buy booze to take home rather than drinking out.
It’s part of an occasion that Debs Carter, marketing director at SHS Drinks, the brand behind WKD, has seen become a central social event.
“The Big Night In is an absolutely key social occasion nowadays; it is firmly engrained in the consumer psyche and is something that we actively target,” she says.
“We believe the trend for Big Nights In is growing and is destined to increase further, so it’s definitely an area where added focus can drive growth for convenience retailers.”
Away from beer and wine, one creative way to tap into the market is to woo the cocktail crowd. Retailers can do this by offering cocktail staples (such as tonic, ice and paper umbrellas) and even promoting RTDs that can double as the basis of cocktail recipes.
“The emergence of the RTD-based cocktail is probably one of the biggest drinks trends we’ve seen among young adult consumers in recent years,” says Carter.
“RTDs are still considered as drinks in their own right, but they are now increasingly also being used for making cocktails. This is a trend that has established itself in the on-trade where it is continuing to grow - CGA’s latest data shows cocktail sales up by 4% in the past six months - and it’s taken hold in the off-trade, too.”
Big Night In after a big night out
For retailers who open longer hours, there is an additional Big Night In opportunity. Manchester Spar retailer Paul Stone, whose Princess Street Store is open 24 hours, claims that there’s a point in the evening where a Big Night Out can turn into a Big Night In.
“We have a late licence, but we don’t sell alcohol 24 hours a day. However, because we’re in the city centre we do target customers who have been on a night out and are going home or to someone else’s flat to carry on,” he says.
Paul says that these customers can buy everything from ice cream and crisps to satisfy the late-night munchies, to plastic cups to cater for a crowd.
Also, if it’s not yet time for the alcohol side of business to shut, he notes that the young man (or woman) out to impress their newly-found companion on the way back to their flat can prove to be a great customer. “They’re often the people who buy the premium spirits because they want to impress - it’s the way of the world,” he chuckles.
Go big on sharing formats to meet Big Night In demand
When it comes to a Big Night In, the big theme needs to be sharing, says Maurice Newton, sales and marketing director at CBL Drinks.
“The most recognisable trend when it comes to the Big Night In market is sharing - whether it is a family DVD night, or a romantic night in for two,” he says.
“Consumers often like to replicate out-of-home experiences when hosting a Big Night In - for instance, a movie night may result in the purchase of large bags of crisps, sweets or soft drinks, as this gives a similar feeling to being at a cinema.”
This is where retailers have the opportunity to boost baskets through cross-merchandising large-format soft drinks (such as CBL’s 2ltr Zack’s Classic Soda packs) with other sweets, crisps and snacks set for sharing.
Chris Smith, marketing executive at c-store snack stalwart Bobby’s Foods, says that the company sees a noticeable sales uplift in its large sharing bags when the Big Night In season kicks in.
“As the summer comes to an end and darker nights draw in, people naturally want to stay in the warmth of their homes and watch big TV programmes aired during this time. Therefore, consumer snacks such as big sharing bags become popular items for c-stores to sell. Historically, we have experienced 23% growth year on year with our Big Bag snacks during the season.”
Bobby’s Foods is hoping to appeal to these Big Night In shoppers with its new Chilli Cheese Changos, featuring both chilli and cheese chip flavours. “We have identified the increased trend of tortilla chips and created a unique chilli cheese flavour combination which ignites the taste buds,” says Smith.
Packs are pricemarked at £1.
Don’t forget the soft option
Though booze has always been part of the Big Night In offer, there’s evidence that as a nation we’re starting to sober up. According to the latest ONS figures more than one in five adults (21%) don’t drink alcohol at all - but they still want something more than mineral water to sip during social nights at home.
Premium beverage brand Schloer has identified that women are big consumers of alcohol-free drinks - especially the mum-to-be and baby shower crowd (a popular event).
As well as partnering with popular parenting sites, the brand has launched a £1.69 pricemarked pack for Red Grape and White Grape.
Alcohol-free wine is another option worth your consideration. Eisberg has just added a Sauvignon Blanc variant (including 187ml single-serve bottles) to give customers the full white wine experience without the end-of-night wobbles. It’s part of a growing sector, with alcohol-free wine sales up 49% overall (Nielsen).
“It’s clear that people are choosing not to drink alcohol for all sorts of reasons, from sponsored periods of abstinence to health reasons,” says Eisberg marketing manager Fran Draper.
“So the host or hostess of the Big Night In party occasion should make sure that non-alcohol drinkers are fully catered for.”
The importance of signage
Even in smaller stores, customers won’t know you offer Big Night In products unless you shout about it, which is where POS material comes in.
Shop4pop offers short-run POS printing; retailers can order as little as a single sheet. C-store owners either upload original designs or use customisable templates from Shop4pop’s website to make their own Big Night In signage.
“For Big Night In I think that shelf-wobblers are definitely useful,” says Shop4pop marketing executive Siobhan Sweeney.
“In convenience stores, where you have a lot less floorspace to play with, they’re great for highlighting specific products. Dumpbins also work well for housing Big Night In confectionery as they have a small footprint and allow you to take pressure off the shelves as well.”