Everyone agrees the “big night in” is a big opportunity – but what exactly is it, how does it differ from a quiet night in, and how can retailers make the most of it?

Britvic research found that one in four shoppers will spend more on products for so-called big nights in – but most of these nights involved watching TV or simply “hanging out”, with kids, partners or friends.

So just how big are these big nights?

Alpesh Mistry, UK customer marketing director at Molson Coors, says: “The big night in is a huge opportunity. Tesco and Sainsbury’s do well with pizza, ice cream, sharing bags and wine – something that creates an occasion – but consumers would classify that as a quiet night in. When people are around for lots of drinks and partying, consumers call that a get-together occasion.”

One in four consumers will buy beer or cider in a convenience store when they have friends or family coming over, compared to 14% when they are staying in to watch a film, according to research company HIM.

Mistry says: “For the beer industry, pre- loading is one of the most important occasions for 18 to 24-year-olds, so it is a huge opportunity for convenience stores or smaller shops to get into. Shoppers are spending more time at home creating more of a hub, so these occasions are happening much more.”

Quiet nights at home are an opportunity too.

Amy Ledger, marketing manager at Continental Wine & Food, says: “The nights are drawing in and summer is coming to a close. Thoughts are turning to preparing and saving for Christmas, which means that customers are even more likely to consume at home. At this time of year, holidays are over and people are starting to cosy- up. Girly get-togethers and film nights are informal – the dress code can easily be a onesie, with people choosing to stay over so that they can enjoy a drink or two as part of their night in.”

These quiet nights will often be held on a budget, and Ledger says this is an opportunity for the growing British wine market – sales of its Straw Hat wines in 75cl bottles are up 78% year on year.

CWF has also launched 18.7cl and 3-litre bag-in-box packs of Straw Hat. Ledger says: “The new bag-in-box format is perfect for parties and get-togethers, stays fresh for up to six weeks after opening and represents excellent value for money for the consumer.”

With many of these nights being held off the cuff, or with limited preparation time, they are a great opportunity for convenience stores, which have seen top-up shops grow 13% in the past three years, according to HIM.

“This opportunity is very important for the convenience channel because we are closest to where customers are spending their big nights in and we’re always on hand for top-ups,” says Spar’s trading manager for wine, Daphne Teremetz. “Being local means we are available for last-minute purchase decisions and ideally placed for consumers on their way home. We need to ensure availability remains high at these times of day to capture this shopping mission.”

Spar always has at least one sparkling wine on offer to target shoppers heading to a celebration, and sites snacks such as popcorn, crisps, olives and sweets near drinks, as well as easy meals such as pizzas, ready meals and desserts.

Teremetz says: “Single product offers which are merchandised together give customers inspiration but also flexibility and real choice. There should be a mix across a number of categories. It also gives consumers confidence they can get a good range at Spar, which leads to further purchases at different occasions.”

Simon Harrison, wholesale sales director at Coca-Cola Enterprises, says: “Staying in became a trend as a result of the recent recession, providing a fun, money-saving alternative to going out.

“Even as disposable income has increased, this trend has continued and it is still an important occasion for retailers to capitalise on. These nights are often unplanned, so it is convenience retailers that are in the ideal position to cater for shoppers making impulse buys.”

Changing patterns

Amanda Grabham, marketing director for soft drinks at Shloer supplier SHS Drinks, says: “Consumers’ socialising and shopping patterns are changing and this is providing increased opportunities for convenience store retailers. The two key trends which are having the biggest impact are the increase in consumers entertaining at home and the fact that people are doing more small and top-up shops using their local stores.

“This has opened up opportunities for convenience retailers to meet the demand for drinks and snacks which go hand-in-hand with social occasions. Convenience retailers are adapting and broadening their range to cater for these new shopping missions.”

Debs Carter, marketing director for alcohol at SHS Drinks, which also supplies Merrydown, says: “With the downturn in the economy over the past few years, consumer habits have changed and people have become more accustomed to entertaining at home. Although the economy is showing signs of picking up, according to the latest Mintel report on drinking in the home there are still more consumers drinking alcohol at home than in the pub, which is good news for convenience retailers.

“When it comes to cider sales, convenience stores have an advantage as almost 75% of cider shoppers want to consume their purchase within three hours, according to Kantar Alcovision, and 38% of shoppers say they would go elsewhere if chilled products were not available. So providing plenty of chilled cider really is an area for off-licences to focus on.”

Suppliers advise retailers to make the most of the big night in opportunity by keeping stock levels up, chilling, and merchandising drinks with snacks, ready meals and other supplies, especially in dedicated bays or aisle-ends to boost visibility. They should highlight new products, promote big nights in with window posters, outdoor boards, shelf barkers and wobblers, stock price-marked packs, and theme displays around upcoming events such as the August bank holiday, the Rugby World Cup, Halloween or the X-Factor final.

Big it up: boost sales by giving your customers ideas for more unusual nights at home

Go glamping

It’s not strictly at home, but it’s a take-home occasion. A whole industry has grown up around the latest camping fashion, from trendy tents to awesome accessories and cool crafts. Lambrini is among the drinks brands targeting glampers.

Mix it up at a cocktail evening

Diageo is running a campaign called Shake It Up, encouraging consumers to create new cocktails and post them on social media. Category development manager Patricia Mota says: “Summer is a time when people come together to share food and drink. Hosting is the perfect opportunity – 60% of shoppers are hosting at home. Retailers should aim to inspire their shoppers to get creative with spirits, experiment with cocktails and personalise their occasion at home with friends.”

To encourage those sort of ideas, Spar is posting a “cocktail of the month” recipe on its website each month, linked to a spirit promotion, with all the ingredients available in- store so customers can try it at home.

What you got cooking?

Growing interest in food-matching with beer and cider is giving dinner parties a ne
w lease of life. Shelf-strip tasting notes and food- matching suggestions can inspire shoppers. Both Merrydown and Molson Coors are investing in promoting their brands with food, and are offering plenty of information and ideas on Merrydown’s website and that of Britain’s Beer Alliance’s There’s a Beer for That campaign.

Give it a theme

Whether it’s a Spanish night, a James Bond evening or your own Come Dine With Me, a theme can put the big into your night in. David Scott, director of brands and insight at Carlsberg UK, says: “As the trend towards entertaining in the home continues, we have noticed many nights in are becoming themed, with guests invited to dress up or bring something along to embody that theme.”

Run a shower

Bridal showers and baby showers are among the latest US trends to cross the pond. Grown- up soft drinks such as Shloer and alcohol-free wines such as Eisberg are good hooks for promoting these events. Shloer’s Amanda Grabham says: “Two-thirds of mums-to-be now plan to hold a baby shower and the market is estimated to be worth £220 million annually.”

Do a lot for charity

Cancer charity Macmillan raised more than £470,000 this May when it encouraged women to have girls’ nights in to raise cash. Molson Coors’ Alpesh Mistry says: “Charities do a great job [getting people to] raise money by staying in and donating the money they would have spent to the charity.”