Everybody enjoys a good night out and convenience store customers are no different. But after factoring in food, alcohol and a taxi home, an evening in town can prove pretty costly. A few years ago, such costs may have seemed irrelevant, but now that the credit crunch has hit home people are looking to save money and a night on the tiles is being substituted by a big night in.

According to shopper research company HIM, there was a 3% year-on-year decrease in people visiting pubs or bars for drinks and food last September, while there was a 1% increase in visits to an off licence, highlighting an added interest in staying in.

Kraft Foods managing director Jack Pipe explains the growing popularity of having a big night in. “With issues like the credit crunch and housing market slowdown widely reported, people are trying to be more sensible about spending,” he says. “Having a night in allows people to socialise without forking out £100 for a night on the town.”

Aside from the classic lads’ and girls’ nights in, there is a growing number of occasions that people are choosing to celebrate at home. “There are opportunities springing up which are adding another dimension to the big night in,” says Shloer marketing communications controller Amanda Grabham. “The growth in popularity of baby showers – girly parties where guests give presents to a mum-to-be – is a prime example. A long-standing US tradition, baby showers are now catching on in the UK.”

Events such as these lead to demand for lighter and non-alcoholic drinks, says Grabham. “There will always be the need to offer soft drink options – whether it’s for mums-to-be, guests who don’t drink alcohol, or for those who are driving.”

Bavaria marketing manager Gary Preston agrees that a big night in doesn’t have to be based around alcohol. “Friends with an early start the next day, or those that have been lumbered with taxi duties, need not feel left out,” he says. Bavaria has just launched a non-alcoholic apple malt available in a 330ml size can for such occasions.

However, for those who still fancy a tipple, but are watching their units, a low-alcohol drink may be the solution. Constellation Europe’s recent Wine Nation report highlights the demand for lower-alcohol content wines and led it to develop the Echo Falls Spritz range, abv 4%. “Our in-depth research shows there is a growing demand for lighter drinking options,” says Constellation Europe consumer marketing director Clare Griffiths.

Of course, low-alcohol drinks aren’t for everyone and consumers can recreate the full-on pub experience at home thanks to recent innovations from brewer Scottish & Newcastle (S&N). According to S&N head of customer marketing Shaun Heyes, the Kronenbourg 1664 can with Dynamo Système and Fosters with in-can Scuba widget offer “pub quality at home” drinking experiences. S&N will be focusing on the convenience sector in 2009 by pushing its Heineken Draught Keg and its Jacques and Bulmers cider ranges.

Trend spotting

Another way to cash in on the big night in market is to take advantage of the trend towards sharing, says Walkers customer insights manager Guy Sheperd.

“In December last year nearly as many Sensations sharing bags were sold in convenience stores as individual packs (417,180 to 446,360),” he says. “With an 8.8% rise on last year, this is the fastest growing segment in the snacking market. Yet the average independent retailer stocks more than 40 lines of crisps and only five of these are share-size packs.”

United Biscuits commercial manager Nick Stuart also believes that sharing packs are a missed opportunity. “Having friends over can be a last-minute decision, so retailers must make sure that they have sharing bags and popular snacks well-stocked for the key social nights of Fridays and Saturdays.”

In anticipation of the extra demand, United Biscuits has relaunched its Phileas Fogg snacks range. Bringing an international flavour to the big night in, new flavours include Mexican sweet chilli, sea salt & Indonesian black peppercorn and Irish Cheddar & onion chutney crisps, all in 140g sharing packs. The tortilla range will also be returning in a sharing size in sour cream & mild Mexican chilli and salsa & Mexican chilli flavours.

The trend for Mexican flavours also extends to hot snacks. General Mills UK’s Old El Paso fajita dinner kit range is seeing a resurgence in popularity, with c-store sales of £63.7m in the year to November 2008, up 15.8%. Andy Foweather, sales director of General Mills UK, explains the popularity: “Mexican food delivers something different,” he says. “It’s a very sociable food, offering lots of flavours and colours, which get people interacting across the table.”

Chinese food has long been a firm favourite. Daloon Foods managing director Geoff Burgess says Chinese frozen ethnic snacks continue to be the most popular cuisine, accounting for 57% of the total frozen ethnic snacks market by value. He adds that the move to party food has also helped sales of mini ethnic snacks, which is the strongest performing product group in the frozen ethnic snacks market.

missed opportunity

Aoife Kenny, business unit controller at Kepak Convenience Foods, which owns the Rustlers and Ugo’s Deli Café panini brands, says that c-store retailers are missing out by failing to make products available. “It’s estimated that one-third of all sales in c-stores are lost because products aren’t readily available – important when you realise that three-quarters of customers make decisions at the point of purchase.”

Karen Salters, marketing director for Beverage Brands, which owns WKD, claims that availabilty of chilled drinks also has a huge impact on sales. “The availability of chilled drinks is absolutely essential. Research shows that chilled availability increases the sales of RTDs by at least 10%,” she says.

In addition to keeping chillers well stocked, Salter claims that cross-category merchandising can help sales. “Locate crisps and dips near drinks chillers, and stock a selection of simple, heat-and-serve food offerings,” she says.

Linking popular big night in categories together can be a good way to increase sales, agrees Red Bull communications manager Tom Smith. “Retailers may want to merchandise Red Bull close to spirits such as vodka, as well as in the chiller.”

Displaying snacks and drinks next to your DVD section can also be a successful strategy as shoppers choose to rent films instead of splashing out at the cinema. “A DVD rental service encourages incremental sales as people take the opportunity to purchase big night in add-ons such as alcohol, snacks and ready-meals,” says Gerry Hooper, sales director at DVD rental company ChoicesUK.
Sweet talking
Socialising at home is the perfect excuse for consumers to splash out on a sweet treat. “Crisps, nuts and savoury snacks are all popular nibbles for a night in, but confectionery is an extra-special treat,” says Kraft Foods managing director Jack Pipe. “Large tablets or twist-wrap products are the most suitable, allowing people to share, but providing guests with choice.”

He adds: “A big night in wouldn’t be complete without having chocolate and treats to nibble. Kraft Foods’ range of sharing confectionery appeals to a variety of customers and is ideal for group occasions.”

Kraft has recently launched a 100g Toblerone Honeycomb Crisp, as well as rebranding its Segsations and Toblerone One By One range.

Nestlé UK trade communications manager Graham Walker says that sharing confectionery is a growing trend and retailers should capitalise on this by stocking products in high-traffic areas. Nestlé has tapped into the shared market potential with the introduction of Toffee Crisp Clusters in a sharing size bag.

Mars is also increasing its sharing size confectionery range with the addition of the Mars Planets pouch and the return this month of the Mars Pouch Collector promotion. This offers consumers the chance to redeeem eight tear-off strips from the tops of selected pouch packs for a pair of cinema tickets. Mars pouches and bitesize bags will be supported by a £7.8m promotional spend including TV and press ads throughout 2009.

The number-one selling chocolate bar in the UK is Cadbury Dairy Milk, which holds a 60% market share in independent stores according to the company. A new look for the Dairy Milk range was unveiled last year. Cadbury believes that providing an “impactful, well-signposted” big night in display that incorporates all of the major categories will maximise sales for retailers. According to its sales data, retailers should dedicate 52% of the fixture to confectionery, 26% to savoury snacks and 22% to soft drinks.