C-stores are an ideal port of call for last-minute big nights in, so retailers ought to do whatever they can to boost spend from 5pm on a Friday

WhatsApping some friends to come round and watch The X Factor. Bingeing on must-see box sets, or movies with the family. Planning a little ‘Netflix and chill’ on the sofa with that special someone. Whatever your customers are up to this autumn, it’ll probably involve staying in, grabbing some drinks and snacks, and vegging out.

As inflation-struck Brits watch their wallets this could be the year that Big Night In really comes into its own. Research commissioned by Mars Ice Cream reveals that more than half (59%) of consumers say they would prefer to host a low-key event at home, or be invited to a friend or family member’s house, than go out on the town.

Whether this ongoing trend is driven by a lack of cash, or a desire to be social whatever the weather, there’s one thing for sure: when shoppers want to stock up on food and drink for an impromptu Big Night In, they’re more likely to stay local, with seven in 10 choosing c-stores over supermarkets for key category purchases (HIM Research & Consulting).

That means, by stocking the right products in share-friendly formats, Big Night In can be a cockle-warming sales occasion for all kinds of convenience stores.

“I reckon that Big Night In has actually become more of ‘a thing’ for us these days,” says Steph Latham, manager at Spar Lostock Hall in Preston, Lancashire.

“It seems to be linked to the way that TV is going. People get excited for the start of certain shows such as The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, even Great British Bake Off. And there’ll be lots of excitement around the finals, too. It’s basically any time where people can get the snacks in, and the wine and beer, and get ready to watch something together.”

Steph says that for her store, this means it’s a year-round occasion dictated by what’s on telly at the time. And she maintains that whatever’s on the box, it’s the headline deals that really get customers coming in to shop the category.

“We’ve been doing it [Big Night In] for a while and I think it really works when you’ve got all the right snack, drink and confectionery products on offer at the same time – especially when you’ve got products on at a pound or thereabouts,” she says.

“At the minute we’ve got two for £1.50 on the sharing bags of crisps, and a big Pepsi at £1.25. But we often like to wait until we’ve got Maltesers, or Cadbury bags, on at a good price and then go really big with it.

“It’s like with the chocolate hanging bags we do. We might do a display with them, but because of the price they don’t tend to do that well. But I find that as soon as they’re a pound people go absolutely mad for them.”

The fact there’s a KFC handily located up the road also helps make Steph’s store a Big Night In destination. Customers will grab their chicken and chips and then pop in for accompanying alcohol and dessert.

Canny retailers know that cross-merchandising is the key to cracking open the Big Night In category. That’s because, once shoppers are in-store to buy one item such as a bottle of wine, they’re more likely to splurge on snacks and sweets if they’ve got them front and centre in their sight-line.

Hugh Taylor, category insight controller at Calbee UK, points out: “It doesn’t take loads of effort to cross-merchandise drinks, snacks and confectionery and it can 
create Big Night In sales, particularly if those items are on the way to the till.”

At Sam Coldbeck’s Premier store in Hull, cross-merchandising by the ice cream fridge has helped to create extra sales. “About 18 months ago we put in an ice cream fridge next to the wine and beer so it’s basically sandwiched right in the middle,” says Sam.

“Then next to that we’ve got a metre of shelving that we put the £1 bags of crisps on. We’ve got Ben & Jerry’s in the ice cream, along with the Doritos on the shelf.”

Wide appeal

Sam reckons that this approach has helped boost sales of multi-buys and highlight promotions. It’s also got appeal across different age groups on different missions – which is a large part of the Big Night In’s across-the-board popularity.

“What we see is that the 18- to 25-year-olds will come in at 7pm or 8pm and buy beer and wine to take home,” she says.

“They’re looking to stay at home with their mates for a while and then go out later.”

She adds: “Believe it or not, round here the Come Dine With Me idea is quite big with the slightly older generation. We’ve got a lot of families in the area and there are probably five groups of families that have each other round their houses to cook for. And then the next weekend they’ll swap. It gets quite competitive, apparently!”

As you might expect, Sam says that the occasion centres around Friday and Saturday nights, which means it’s important to gear up for the weekend.

“We tend to design the category in-store to promote those special Friday or Saturday nights in,” says Sam.

“I think people trade up a lot at the weekends, where luxury snacks and little treats will be more readily bought. During the week it’s the cheap and cheerful stuff for the kids, and then at the weekend the adults really splurge on the good stuff for themselves.”

Friday night’s all right

It’s a similar tale for Richard Inglis, owner of Parkview Retail, who oversees multiple stores in Southampton. He says that the end of the week is always a lively time for his staff.

“Our biggest day of the week is always Friday, and Friday evening is absolutely huge for us in-store,” he says.

“Saturday is a good day, but never as strong in the evenings as on a Friday. Maybe that’s a combination of the students and office workers. I think perhaps they go large on a Friday night, but then by the time they get round to Saturday they think twice about it.”

Despite recognising the natural skew towards weekends, Sam says that it pays to have a credible Big Night In selection for every day of the week. After all, you need the stock there if a customer suddenly decides that Tuesday night is the perfect time to binge-watch Game of Thrones with some friends.

Donna Mullan, from Mullan’s Spar in Armagh, maintains that her store doesn’t experience a big weekend spike in demand. She says that snacks and sweet sales tend to be pretty steady throughout the week for her.

“I think that people’s lives have got so busy that they’re just buying those kinds of products all the time these days,” she says.

“I’m not really sure that there’s a big ‘treat day’ for families round here – sweets are always there in the larder. That might be one of the reasons that we have so much obesity, too.”

Donna is helping to fight back by offering plenty of fruit in her store (she says that bananas tend to go really well). But among her treat selection it’s the Spar snack bags that stand out for those after something a bit more indulgent.

“They’re just a tiny bit bigger than a share bag, and that seems to make them popular. The bags tend to be on at a good price, which helps as well,” she says.

As Donna suggests, the impulse nature of snacks makes them big news in convenience – and a mainstay of the Big Night In category. And in a climate where value and size count more than ever, it’s the sharing bags that are solidifying their place as sector superstars.

“Savoury snacks were consumed on more than 3.5 billion occasions last year, with sharing bags making up nearly 20% of all consumption occasions,” says Pierre Jackson, category insights controller at PepsiCo.

Jackson also highlights the natural fit between sharing packs and alcohol. He says that one in seven beer, wine and spirits (BWS) purchases are bought with a sharing pack of sweets or snacks in convenience [PepsiCo Convenience Research].

From his viewpoint behind the till, Richard has seen how the snack market is being eaten up wholesale by these bigger bags.

“I think that the bigger bags of crisps are definitely the winners across the board these days,” he says. “People aren’t buying the small bags as much, and we’re starting to see the same trend in things like chocolate, too. People just want to go big.

“We have our big bags of crisps – so Dorito’s, onion rings and the like – next to our wine section. They all go phenomenally well from round there. From our point of view it definitely works locating all those kinds of Big Night In items together in one area.”

Flash sales

The Big Night In occasion doesn’t happen in a bubble. Customers’ shops are shaped by ongoing trends in the wider world, one of which is price.

“As the pressure on pricing remains, consumers’ savvy shopping behaviour means they will expect to see a continued focus on price cuts and multi-buys for snacking products, allowing them to manage their weekly shop and still purchase their household favourites,” says Hena Chandarana, trade communications controller at Pladis.

For Pladis, this means focusing on pricemarked packs (PMPs) as an effective way to signpost value on the shelves.

“As our Better Biscuits category advice indicates, PMPs play a vital role in demonstrating value to consumers, particularly in convenience,” says Chandarana.

“We have more than 40 brands available in PMPs and so are well versed with launching a PMP to market. Specific promotional execution for retail clubs is growing in importance and we work with retailers and wholesalers through our field team to ensure we have great in-store execution.”


Popcorn potential

Meanwhile, healthy eating isn’t necessarily a massive driver for customers on a Big Night In mission. Yet there’s one rising star that seems to tick the boxes of (perceived) health benefits while adding some excitement to the snack category: popcorn.

Mintel reports that popcorn sales have risen 169% over the past five years, and its movie-experience-at-home appeal makes it a natural Big Night In choice.

In its research, PepsiCo has identified three common Big Night In occasions (‘social get-togethers’, ‘enjoy a treat’ and ‘family movie night in’) and puts popcorn firmly in the latter category.

The [family movie night in] shopper is typically a parent looking for the security of favourite brands the whole family can enjoy together,” he says.

“Popcorn resonates well here; it has a nostalgia factor and it is great for sharing.”

Popcorn definitely goes down a treat with shoppers at Donna’s store. “We do a wee bucket of popcorn and then we do a share size with different flavours,” says Donna.

“Suppliers have tried coming in with all different sorts of flavours, which we sample in the staff room, and some worked and others didn’t. The one that really does well for us is the salty and sweet popcorn in the same pack. It’s an interesting taste at first, but people like it.”

Likewise, Sam has seen the cream of the more artisan popcorn flavours come through the store, but isn’t 100% sold on them quite yet.

“We’ve tried all the bizarre flavours here,” she says. “So we’ve had pulled pork flavour, and ice cream flavour, and they really don’t go down as well as the traditional options. When it’s about salt and sweet we really do sell cases of those all day long.

“When the flavoured ones and the slightly bizarre ones are on promotion we’ll run them as a bit of a novelty, but we won’t keep them on as a permanent line. I think it’s a bit like Marmite, you either love them or hate them.”

Uncorking the wine category

Could wine be the next craft beer? According to Kantar, only 34.4% of men aged 18 to 34 drink wine each month – so that means there’s a big market to uncork for the right brand.

Artisan wine producer 19 Crimes is leading the way with a selection centred around the stories of criminals-turned-colonists and their adventures in Australia. This winter it launched a new augmented reality (AR) app to bring the brand to life on consumers’ smartphones.

“We are hugely excited by the launch of our augmented reality app across the whole 19 Crimes range,” says Tom King, 19 Crimes’ marketing manager.

“Our insight clearly shows that millennials like brands with real and authentic stories and our AR innovation brings the 19 Crimes story to life.”

Elsewhere on the alcohol aisle, an upmarket approach can also pay dividends when it comes to spirits.

“We are seeing success within the on-trade, where premium accounts for 50% of all spirits sold, which tells us consumers are willing to spend more on premium spirits,” says James Middleton, channel director for impulse at Pernod Ricard UK.

“In comparison, 18% of all spirits sold within the convenience channel are premium, so for retailers it’s about upping volumes to make the most of the opportunity.”


Italian connection

Beyond snacks, the universal appeal and share-ability of a pizza makes it synonymous with planned and impromptu Big Night In occasions. IRI reports that frozen pizza is eaten across 62.3 million weekend occasions, fuelling 3.4% in volume and unit growth respectively.

Richard can see the appeal at his store. “Pizza is one of the big sellers in frozen, and really is one of the core products,” he says.

“It’s always a steady seller during the week, but has extra appeal at the weekend when people don’t want to cook, but need something easy to put on the table.”

For many convenience retailers, while eats are important, it’s alcohol that sits right at the heart of their Big Night In offer. And with good reason – according to Mintel the UK is experiencing a serious shift towards in-home drinking, mainly because consuming it in front of the telly is usually cheaper than heading out to the pub.

Take beer as a prime example. In 2016 off-trade volume beer sales surpassed the on-trade for the first time since industry records began. That’s a testament to the way retailers are getting behind eye-catching alcohol promotions and, inspired by the rise of craft beer and cider, stocking a wider selection in-store.

Richard says that price and range are definitely the two factors driving his alcohol sales. “We definitely do well with the big packs of beer on promotion,” he says.

“For instance, we do a case of Budweiser for a tenner and boxes of Foster’s on promotion. It always goes down well with customers.

“But that’s not the whole story for us by any means. In conjunction with those you’ve got your four-can packs of craft beer, your big bottles of cider and everything like that. Those also sell nicely.”

Richard explains that the days when it was only the big brands that did the business in his chiller are long gone. Thanks to more discerning customers seeking different drinks, he recognises that sales are spread more evenly across the whole category for Big Night In.

“Our alcohol range has changed so much that it’s not just one set of products that sell. I used to be able to stick a load of Foster’s and Stella Artois in my beer chiller and that was pretty much 90% of what I sold,” he says.

“It’s not like that anymore. Instead, come Sunday morning my chiller hasn’t got one huge hole in – instead everywhere needs stocking up!”

get ready to go with ready-to-drinks

Ready-to-drink products are worth £225m in the off-trade (Nielsen MAT to September 2016), and are on plenty of Big Night In menus, especially for students.

The number one student RTD, VK (NUS Student Drinks Tracker 2016) is available in a range of formats, including the mixed pack, which is up 83% in impulse (Nielsen 52 w/e 25 February 2017). Cult RTD, Hooch (available in Hooch Lemon and Hoola Hooch) is also driving double-digit value (up 19%) and volume (up 12%) growth (Nielsen 52 w/e 25 February 2017).

Christian Sarginson, brand controller at Global Brands, which distributes VK, Hooch and Amigos, says that with more consumers than ever before opting for a Big Night In, there’s unlimited opportunity to capitalise on spend.

He adds: “The average cost of a night out currently sits at £126.42, and although at-home drinkers don’t want to spend the same figure on a night in, they will spend money on recreating the effects of going out, while personalising the experience in the comfort of their own homes. This provides a huge opportunity for independent retailers to capitalise on this via cross-promotion deals.”

He believes meal deals are a great way of upselling products. Themed deals can work especially well, he adds. “Amigos Tequila Beer is Mexican inspired so will sit well alongside fajitas and nachos for a Mexican fiesta. Hooper’s Alcoholic Dandelion & Burdock resonates with adults and brings back memories of fish and chip takeaways.”

Cocktail party

RTDs have a role to play in one of the hottest at-home trends, cocktails. With consumers looking to recreate the on-trade cocktail experience in the comfort of their own homes, mixing cocktails at home has become commonplace.

However, with demanding and busy lives, many home drinkers are seeing the appeal of pre-mixed cocktail cans. As a result, cans have shown significant growth over the past 12 months. Increasing in popularity, they have grown 11% in impulse, and 8.4% (value) and 13.9% (volume) in multiple grocers (Nielsen 52 w/e 13 August 2016).

Retailers can help shoppers create their own cocktails at home by pairing the ingredients together with recipe cards, or they can provide ready-made cocktails such as Global Brands’ Flare Cocktails.

Flare Cocktails are pricemarked at £1 so are a quick and easy addition to independents’ shelves.

Served in a 250ml can format, the range includes Cosmo, Mojito and On the Beach. They come in a sleek can that stands out.


The traditional case of beer or cider is certainly a Big Night In staple. They don’t just satisfy a crowd and signpost good value when on promotion. The cases themselves can also be built up on the shopfloor to create a bit of theatre around the category.

As no stranger to a powerful display, Steph at Spar Lostock Hall has gone to town in the past – stacking £10 boxes of Carlsberg up and slotting in sharing bags of Walker’s Bugles to create a show-stopping in-store feature.

“It does depend on what’s on offer at the time, but it’s always good to get a display up on the shop floor if you can,” she says.

“People tend to be in a hurry on a Friday and Saturday night, so anything that stops them in their tracks, tells them there’s an offer, and gets them to buy, is always important. Plus, they’re fun to do.”

For Sam’s customers price is a very important factor, and she says that the alcohol aisle is a great place to inspire linked purchases.

“I think that people across every generation are probably getting more savvy to the fact that it’s cheaper to drink at home, not just the young people” she says.

“I find that customers will definitely impulse buy when they’re in the beer and wine section – they’ll always pick up some snacks, so it’s good to have them right there.”

Freezer favourites

Ice cream isn’t just for summer – it’s a billion pound category (IRI) that’s an essential part of the autumn Big Night In occasion.

Within ice cream, tubs are the go-to format, representing 44% of all sales in the category and feeding a £446m sub-sector (IRI). So earlier this year Mars Ice Cream launched its new Mars and Snickers tubs at a £3 rrp to meet this hungry market.

Phil Shaw, general manager for Mars Ice Cream, says that to heat up sales it’s vital to get your freezer layout sorted. “With so many limited-edition variants flashed in and out of the freezer, it’s important for retailers to understand the potential impact of ‘freezer cloggers’ on long-term sales,” he says.

“Selling a small range and focusing on the best-selling brands within each major category segment will help retailers to keep freezers looking clean and tidy. It’s also important to ensure that customers know that you stock their favourites and to position the freezer cabinet near the front of the store so these are not overlooked.”

Though customers may be sitting around the telly in their onesies on Friday night, they still want a touch of luxe. This autumn, Häagen-Dazs is capitalising on its brand reset with a £5m media push to highlight ice cream indulgence.

“For Big Nights In, consumers typically choose the classic 500ml pint format,” says Arjoon Bose, marketing manager for Häagen-Daz at brand owner General Mills.

“The smaller 100ml pots also offer a perfect portion-controlled alternative. Haagen-Dazs’ best-selling flavours are strawberry cheesecake and salted caramel, and as the nights get colder, tastes for luxury ice cream turn to more indulgent flavours including cookies & cream, pralines & cream and limited-edition salted caramel cheesecake.”


Quality over quantity

One thing that does seem to have faded out of favour in Big Night In alcohol is the ‘three bottles for a tenner’ deals that seemed to dominate c-stores a decade ago. Richard says that it’s an example of how, in some store locations at least, customers now care more about the quality of booze they’re buying.

“You used to get the ‘two for a fiver’ or ‘two for six pound’ deals,” he says.

“Now it’s more about individual bottle discounts. I think that’s probably a good thing in the end, because ‘three for a tenner’ promotions probably encourage too much heavy drinking!

“Customers are more interested in quality than quantity. They don’t mind spending their money, but, honestly, do you really want to drink three cheap and nasty bottles of red wine, or have a couple of really nice bottles you’re really going to enjoy?”


big bags of potential

“The popularity of confectionery share bags continues as consumers continue to keep a tight hold on their purse strings, spending less on evenings out and instead staying at home to enjoy a Big Night In,” says Dan Newell, confections marketing manager at Wrigley.

He says that the key to maximising this category is concentrating on the social angle by stocking share-size confectionery, such as the Starburst Tear and Share pouches.

Skittles is also a big player in this category – and to keep customers captivated this year Wrigley combined two of its best-loved flavours to create the new limited-edition Fruits and Sours variant.

Mixing things up seems to be the trend for 2017, as confectioners target people on the ‘binge-watching a box set’ or ‘watching a family movie’ missions.

“Products that provide variety are key trends for the Big Night In,” says Andrew Ovens, marketing manager at Big Bear Confectionery.

“The ‘mix up’ options in the sharing bags category are a big hit as customers get a range of flavours and textures in a single purchase. This is why we created our Poppets Movie Mix product, to offer variety in one pouch via four flavours: orange fondant; dairy fudge; chocolate shortcake; and juicy raisin.”