Providing shoppers with everything for a night in can certainly add sales. Aidan Fortune looks at how to make sure you have the right ingredients

As we move into the winter months, consumers are more likely to think twice about a night on the town which brings with it the risk of bad weather, expensive restaurant prices and a queue for the taxi home in the cold. Instead, they may favour a meal in their comfort of their own lounge, served with a bottle of wine, sitting in front of a decent film.

And that’s where c-store retailers step in. According to Rectory Foods managing director Nick Bowyer, convenience store have a great opportunity to provide a ‘take-home’ experience for their customers.

“Stores should stock reasonably priced meal options that allow consumers to prepare quality, nutritional food in their own environment, allowing them to create the effect of a take-away at home,” he asserts.

Bowyer also suggests creating meal deals for customers that allow them to pick up all the ingredients they need for a night in, at an attractive set price. “Don’t limit it to just one deal, though,” he warns. “It can be food and a drink or food and a dessert or a combination of all three. Being flexible makes it much easier for shoppers to buy everything they need in one go.”

Given that HIM Convenience Tracking Programme figures show that 10% of ‘meal for tonight’ shoppers dont actually make a purchase double the CTP average covering all bases is sound advice.

For customers looking for the authentic take-away meal experience there are several new options available. Daloon has revised its frozen ethnic snacking range, which includes vegetable and duck spring rolls, mini samosas and mini onion bhajis, which are all designed to have that homemade look. It has also revamped its vegetable dim sum selection.

Kohinoor Foods UK has followed suit and created a selection of dishes designed to bridge the gap between affordability and quality. The India On Platter range includes vegetable korma, vegetable biryani and cholle masala all consumers have to do is add the rice.

Managing director Sumit Arora says that the products’ keen prices and good quality will push up the popularity of in-home dining. “Convenience and value as well as quality have and will continue to be absolutely key when moving forward in this segment,” he says.

Arora adds that despite the increase in microwavable rice, cooking it in the traditional style is still popular. “Convenience-driven formats such as microwave rice and ready-to-eat continue to do well, but none will ever replace the core product, dry rice,” he says.

Birds Eye senior brand manager Tim Albert believes that known brands do well when people are looking to save money, especially when it comes to in-home dining. “Consumers traditionally look to brands that they know and trust, and brands they know provide value for money,” he says.

He adds that consumers today also want to reduce the amount of food that is thrown out. “Frozen foods limits food waste, which is becoming increasingly important to shoppers,” Albert says.

Birds Eye has extended its Bake to Perfection range to include seafood. Its king prawn selection now includes sweet chilli, garlic & herb and Thai green curry, all with a rrp of £3.99. Bake to Perfection will be supported by £2m TV campaign throughout October and November.

Strong symbols

As well as the major brands offering a dine-in option, symbol groups are looking to capitalise on the trend, too, and have launched own-label products to suit all consumer tastes.

Spar has unveiled its ‘Got Everything For Dinner…’ campaign which it hopes will increase basket spend by offering customers all they need for meal times.

The promotion is designed to show that Spar stores can offer credible dinner solutions by highlighting items such as ready-made sauces, pasta, frozen meals and vegetables. The campaign will be communicated via pos material, plus online activity and press advertising.

Head of marketing Adam Margolin says: “The ‘dinner’ promotion aims to inspire customers to think about their dinner plans, and to help our stores offer customers individual components, rather than whole solutions, to perfectly complement their evening meal.

“The promotion combines each meal occasion with a strong value message, as well as communicating Spar’s convenience benefit.”

For shoppers who want the hassle taken out of preparing a meal at home, Spar has relaunched its Evening Meal Solutions range to include 116 lines with 29 new products and 26 improved recipes. There are some £1 pricepoint lines and the relaunch will be supported by a significant £1.5m media campaign.

Spar brand director Susan Darbyshire hopes that the revamped range will “increase basket spend and improve the bottom line for retailers by promoting the idea that customers can find what they need at their local Spar.”

Last month Londis released a new selection of frozen ready meals. Trading director Willie Hamilton says that the range, which comprises chicken curry, beef curry, lasagne and spaghetti Bolognese, provides a balance of value and quality while offering a healthy return for retailers.

“Consumers continue to be driven by price and these ready meals offer both quality and value to shoppers,” he says. “At the same time, they deliver excellent margins for our retail partners of up to 32.6%.”

Uncorking sales

If your customers have decided to dine in at home, why not encourage them to make a night of it with a bottle of wine? Picking up a bottle on impulse on the way home is still popular, with wine value sales up 4.5% (Nielsen MAT to week ending June 12, 2010). HIM CTP study also shows that a huge proportion 82% of ‘meal for tonight’ shoppers drink alcohol.

Constellation Wines vice-president of European marketing Clare Griffiths says that she expects this growth to continue. “There has been a definite shift towards at-home dining and entertaining,” she says.

“The big night in trend is backed up by the UK wine sales figures, and with more cookery and entertainment programmes such as Channel 4’s Come Dine With Me encouraging people to spend more time eating at home, this trend looks set to continue into the winter and beyond.”

She adds that as well as stocking the usual red and white variants, retailers shouldn’t overlook rosé. “Rosé wine is an area of real growth so it’s a good idea to position some lines in the centre of your fixture,” she says.

Constellation is running a series of campaigns aimed at independent retailers this month and next with money-off coupons and prize draw incentives on its Hardys range. A competition gives consumers the chance to win a hot-air balloon trip across the Andes with Gran Tierra.

Brown Brothers is also hoping to attract more customers with its new Cienna Rosso, a sparkling red wine. It wants to target customers who enjoy fruity styles of sparkling wine and create a niche category in the UK.

European sales and marketing manager Gail Gilbert says wine offers independent retailers a great opportunity. “The on-trade is focusing its attention on provenance and quality, and consumers are increasingly keen to replicate the experience at home by shopping for quality food and fine wine to match,” she says.

“This presents a fantastic opportunity for retailers to boost sales of good quality, higher profit margin products.”

Retailer’s view: Kathryn Smith 

“Sales of frozen food have increased since the start of the year, perhaps because people are cooking at home more rather than eating out or getting take-aways. 

“Whenever we have pizzas on special offer they are snapped up. Some of the bigger brands are doing quite well as people seem to know them better and they’re often the first items people go to. 

“Share-size bags of crisps are doing very well, as are confectionery pouches.” 

Kathryn Smith, Smiths Corner Stores, Manby, Lincolnshire

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