If ever there was a fact to give credence to the notion that staying in is definitely the new going out, it was the news that 75% of us were planning to stay in on New Year’s Eve 2011/12 (source: Post Office Home Insurance New Year survey). As Big Ben chimed through its traditional medium of Jools Holland, most of us were raising a glass to the fact that we could now go to bed without feeling like a killjoy, rather than first footing the neighbours. However, it wasn’t all cocoa and slippers as those staying at home were planning to spend twice the amount of those heading out (£95 vs £48).

This might be bad news for the New Year’s Eve tradition of dicing with death in an unlicensed mini cab, but is great news for retailers as it points to a growing trend towards the recession-beating Big Night In.

Much of this enthusiasm is due to consumers’ fast-shrinking disposable income, but the influence of popular television shows such as Come Dine with Me is apparently also helping to bring the dinner party back into vogue.

Research and consulting company HIM reports that 27% of shoppers are planning to be entertaining more at home over the coming year, while 56% report they will be doing so to the same degree as last year, and 50% said that they would be eating out less.

This data is backed up by research from Nielsen, which indicates that 47% of UK consumers say they are cutting down on out-of-home entertainment compared with the previous year. But while restaurants lose out, those providing food and beverages for this home entertainment trend continue to reap rewards, c-stores included.

According to Beverage Brands marketing director Debs Carter, the gloomy post-Christmas period is a particularly good time to tap into these type of opportunities. “In the current economic climate, and with many people still paying off Christmas spending, consumers may be ultra-keen to keep an eye on discretionary leisure costs, so at-home socialising could take on even greater prominence over the coming months.”

UBUK commercial manager Nick Stuart agrees: “Consumers are likely to be cutting down their spending and tightening their purse strings in a bid to save money following the excesses of Christmas and the new year, but they are still looking to socialise at home.”

He adds: “The beginning of 2012 also marks the arrival of mainstream TV events such as Britain’s Got Talent and the international rugby season, and the European Football Championships kick off in June. All these events provide the perfect excuse to enjoy a chilled-out social occasion at home with friends or family, with some snacks and a glass of wine, or a few beers.”

Ingredients for a good night

According to HIM research, alcohol, soft drinks and confectionery top the most sought-after categories for the Big Night In shopper among 37% of the customers interviewed in the company’s CTP 2011 survey about their shopping mission. Some 21% bought soft drinks, just behind the figures of beer and lager at 25% each. Another 21% bought confectionery, and 18% cigarettes and tobacco. Sharing confectionery accounted for another 13% which was, perhaps surprisingly, the same number that bought into bread, cakes and biscuits category.

Some of the stay-at-home shoppers were keen on very easy entertaining, with 11% buying food to go - more, in fact, than the 10% who bought spirits and liqueurs.

Confectionery is a hugely important part of the trend, which may explain why the sharing bags market is worth £818m and growing (up 6% against total market growth of 2%). Within this, chocolate sharing bags account for £315m (source Nestlé/IRI Total Market, Value Sales 52 weeks ending December 31, 2011).

Nestlé’s new sharing bag Aero Orange Bubbles was launched last month, joining Aero Peppermint Bubbles sharing bag. Cadbury also added to the sharing category when it launched Twirl Bites late last year.

Chocolate blocks are also benefiting from the trend, with sales up 3% to £441m and worth £160m in the convenience channel, a 9% rise. In sugar confectionery, sharing bags are up 2% to £212m in the convenience channel.

Mars trade communications manager Bep Dhaliwal says: “Bringing the Big Night In trend to the forefront of shoppers’ minds looks set to remain a priority for retailers, with predictions showing steady growth for the next 10 years. It offers retailers the opportunity to get really creative in-store, using pos and secondary sitings to create a themed area.” This year Mars is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Maltesers brand with an on-pack flash.

Savoury snacks are another beneficiary of the move to entertaining at home. According to United Biscuits, the bagged snacks market is worth £2.4bn and is growing at 6%, with convenience and impulse showing growth of 13% in sharing bag formats. In March the company will be launching its Jacob’s Oddities range of bite-sized savoury biscuits. The launch will be supported by TV, poster, online and radio advertising, plus sampling and in-store activity. And back for this year is Twiglets Tangy Worcester Sauce, here to stay due to a consumer campaign demanding its return.

From February McCoy’s will be announcing its sponsorship of the McCoy’s Premier League Darts on both handy packs and multipacks.

One company targeting this market is Kettle Chips, which has launched a new range of pricemarked sharing bags specifically for the independent convenience sector. The 100g £1.29 bags are available in cash and carries from the end of this month in the top-selling flavours of Kettle Chips: lightly salted sea salt & balsamic vinegar sea salt with crushed black peppercorns mature cheddar & red onion and sweet chilli. Also new are pricemarked 85g bags of Kettle Ridge Crisps. The 99p pricemarked bags are aimed at a slightly younger consumer than the core Kettle chips range and are available in flamed steak and spicy chilli flavours.

Eye for a deal

When it comes to choosing what to buy, promotions are extremely important to stay-at-home shoppers, with 53% noticing promotions against a 32% CTP average, and 41% buying on promotion against a 16% CTP average. Beer buyers seem particularly keen on getting good value, with 30% just buying whatever beer brand is on promotion. The same number of beer buyers would like to see food- matching selected beer (above 12% CTP average).

Many big nights in are single-sex events and Beverage Brands Carter says you need to cater for their specific needs: “For men, these kinds of nights in have a special appeal guys like to use fun activities or sports events as a focus for getting together. Guests won’t expect fine-dining or thought-provoking after-dinner conversation, but they will anticipate refreshments, snacks, good banter and an enjoyable reason for meeting up - something that they can all enjoy.”

Of course, not every Big Night In involves entertaining friends and neighbours, and can just be a planned time for a family or partners to spend some time together. If your customers are beer buyers then they are twice as likely to be looking for a meal for tonight than the average shopper (HIM CTP 2011) with 60% buying beer to drink on a night in, and 32% reporting that they would like to see meal-for-tonight ingredients grouped together in-store (above the average of 25%).

Give them a nudge

And it seems that beer drinkers are a needier bunch than other customers, crying out for inspiration in the kitchen, with 38% wanting to see recipe cards and ideas (compared with the 27% average), while 38% say they would like to see a night in meal deal of beer, chocolate, bag of crisps.

Whoever your customers are, whatever they drink and whatever the excuse for the night in, they’ll be in a mood to treat themselves and those around them, which is great news for you. By clever ranging, cross-merchandising and clear signage you can make this trend work for you. All this is great news - especially as all indications are that for economic reasons the Big Night In isn’t going to lose its appeal for a long time to come, giving us one of the few recession-linked good news stories around.

Food for thought

The Slummy Mummy’s Book Club meetings are as much about the food as the books. Kate Miller reports on a night of literary treats

big night in

At the end of last year my book group did a quick chronological tot-up of what we’d read over the past 18 months. VS Naipaul’s A Bend in the River? ‘That was when you were pregnant, wasn’t it?’. Sebastian Faulks’ A Week in December? ‘Oh yes, that was when you were seeing whatsisname’. And on it went, until by the end of the list we’d realised that the book club had become a central part of our lives, measuring out the various events that we’d each undergone. Not surprising, really, as we’d be the first to admit that our club is one part gossip, one part book, and a lot of food and drink. A sort of literary girls’ night in.

It’s a scenario echoed in thousands of homes around the country. Some groups are more formal, involving dinner and some very serious book-related discussion, some are mixed, some single sex, some ban anything off the Richard & Judy list (too populist). The book club phenomenon is one that has seen sharp growth in this country in the past 20 years, spilling out of private living rooms onto television, the internet and into newspapers.

Ours consists of a mix of women in their twenties, thirties and forties and is nicknamed the ‘Slummy Mummy’s Book Group’. Tonight we’re here to discuss Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mocking Bird, with the help of pizza, drink, nibbles and lots of chocolate.

Oven on and crisps in bowls, by 8pm we were tucking into the entrees and catching up on each others’ news - an activity which tends to dominate the first half of the evening.

As our group seems to have someone pregnant in it at any particular time, we always have a mix of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. For the drinkers we chose from the First Cape Café Collection, which offer lighter-style wines which suited as it was a school night (literally, in the case of the teacher among us). For the non drinkers (one driver and the expectant mum) the soft drink on offer was Shloer, in three flavours including the new limited-edition Berry Punch.

For nibbles we plumped for a selection including Sensations sharing bag, plus tubs of Twiglets, Mini Cheddars and Cheesy Footballs, and a bag of KP Nuts. Chocolate is a major part of our book groups - we figure we need the sugar for concentration - and we chose sharing bags of Aero and Revels, plus a tray of Ferrero. Last, but not least, no Slummy Mummy’s Book Group would be complete without a plateful of Jaffa Cakes.

After about 90 minutes of gossiping and gorging, someone finally suggests that we might want to talk about the book. And so the second half of the evening begins, where, in a rare moment of agreement, we all decide we love the book. After a round of discussion on various themes we reluctantly agree that it’s time to call it a night. Coats are found and everyone grabs one last Ferrero to head into the night ready to do it all again in another six weeks. •