Today's Big Nights In (BNI) still include watching TV shows but are probably more about bingeing on the latest box set. Then there are the themed BNIs the Girls' Nights In with face packs and chick flicks or Boys' Nights In watching the footie, gaming or playing poker. And increasingly, there are Charity Nights In, which are all about raising money for worthy causes.
Whatever the reason, it would seem that BNIs are here to stay. And they are big business. Kantar Worldpanel Snacking Missions data from last year had evening snacking valued at £5.2bn and growing. Not surprisingly, chocolate is the biggest category by value in evening snacking.
Bep Dhaliwal, trade communications manager, at Mars Chocolate UK, says: "As we get closer to Christmas, we expect more and more people to partake in chocolate, especially as part of a BNI with family and friends. This really is the perfect time to drive sales in the category by making the most of proven best sellers in innovative new formats."
Dhaliwal says Celebrations, as the number one boxed chocolate brand (Nielsen data), is a must-stock item for retailers especially as it's backed by a new ad that's expected to reach approximately 44 million people.
"Sharing packs are playing an increasingly key role in the confectionery market. This includes bitesize packs, where Mars has four of the top five lines (Nielsen data), and large-block sharing. These packs provide the perfect chocolate treat for a night in with friends and family."
Mars £1 Treat Bags range, which includes Maltesers, Galaxy Minstrels and M&M's, as well as the large Galaxy £1 block lines, has seen impressive growth in recent months (Nielsen). Malteasers is the UK's number one bitesize brand however it's M&M's that has contributed more to bitesize growth in the UK than any other brand.
Best sellers are obviously must-stock lines but Susan Nash, trade communications manager at Mondelez International, says NPD has been vital in energising the chocolate category and recruiting new shoppers.
"Cadbury Dairy Milk has constantly delivered innovation to drive category growth, including Marvellous Creations and Oreo, which were incremental at 72% and 67% at launch respectively (Nielsen). Cadbury Dairy Milk Puddles is also set to bring further growth to the category, as 62% of consumers revealed that the product would be an incremental purchase in testing."
Chocolate may be the biggest category in evening snacking but nothing is more synonymous with watching a movie than popcorn. Popcorn used to only be available in sweet or salty varieties but such is its popularity that the number of flavours has grown. The latest range from Butterkist is Discoveries, which has been developed to meet consumer demand for more adventurous flavour fusions.
Two new flavours Hickory BBQ Pulled Pork and Sweet Chilli & Zesty Lime have just joined the already successful Salted Caramel.
Anjna Mistry, senior brand manager at Butterkist, comments: "Butterkist Discoveries offers a new, superior and flavoursome experience for popcorn lovers looking to cater for a sociable snacking occasion like a big night in." She adds that the "expertly blended combinations" capture the consumer desire for sweet and savoury flavour associations.
Mixing up flavours is definitely a growing trend. Walkers launched MixUps earlier in the year, where different flavours and textures are mixed together all in one bag.
Matt Goddard, head of impulse field sales at PepsiCo, says specific snacking occasions such as BNI have helped fuel growth for the £896m snacks sharing category (Nielsen). He says they provide a huge sales opportunity for forecourt traders, especially given the fact that 86% of households buy sharing packs at least once a month (Kantar Worldpanel).
Chris Smith, marketing executive at Bobby's Foods, recommends the company's £1 Big Bag snacks for BNI. The BBQ Snack Mix 80g, Prawn Cocktail Spirals Big Bag 80g and Onion Rings Big Bag 115g all come in boxes of 12.
But the newest line is Chilli Cheese Changos a big sharing bag of crunchy tortilla chips, again priced at £1. And the great thing about the Bobby's range is that all products are supplied on a full sale or return basis, so retailers can return anything they don't sell.
Drinks are an obvious part of any BNI, and with a fifth of adults now opting not to drink alcohol (ONS data), soft drinks can play a big role in at-home occasions.
Amy Burgess, trade communications manager at Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE), says for those planning a night at home, sharing formats such as 1.75ltr PET bottles or 330ml can, multipacks are the ideal way for convenience retailers to achieve incremental growth.
"It's worth keeping these products chilled, as many consumers will be planning spontaneous gatherings, and will want to consume their drinks immediately."
Vimto marketing controller, Emma Hunt, agrees that sharing formats of soft drinks are ideal for a Big Family Night In occasion. She says Vimto, Feel Good, Panda and Levi Roots meet this need across their ranges, which include squash, multipacks and carbonates.
"Kids 'on the go' drinks such as the Vimto Mini 250ml Still RTD or the Panda 250ml juice drink range are also great formats if children are going to be part of the occasion, particularly during planned sleepovers," she adds.
Then there's the alcohol. And, according to the latest Mintel Report on Drinking in the Home, there are still more consumers drinking alcohol at home than in the pub.
Debs Carter, marketing director alcohol at SHS Drinks, whose brand portfolio includes Merrydown Cider, says: "Mintel reveals that almost nine in 10 (87%) consumers have drunk alcohol at home in the past year, marginally higher than the 83% who did so out of home, and around six in 10 (57%) adults drink alcohol at home at least once a week, so it's hardly surprising that alcohol is one of the top three purchases for convenience shoppers on an 'entertaining at home' mission soft drinks and confectionery are the other two key categories.
"This gives a clear indication to retailers on the three key categories that they need to be focusing on to maximise the BNI sales opportunity, and crucial to this success is increasing visibility and awareness in the store so that customers can easily find everything they need for a night in."
With BNI being such a profitable area, suppliers are lining up to offer retailers category advice.
Mondelez's Nash says: "Retailers should position sharing products from different categories in a dedicated BNI bay to encourage consumers to buy all the products they need for the BNI from their shop.
"Retailers should also ensure that displays are prominent and well stocked towards the end of the week to capture top-up shops before the weekend, when the BNI is likely to take place."
Nash's advice about a BNI bay is backed up by Him! research that found half of GB adults wanted to see a 'Night In' zone in convenience stores, housing share sizes of snacks, confectionery and soft drinks near to the off licence section.
But not every store has the space, so Vimto's Hunt says: "If space doesn't allow for a dedicated BNI display area in store, forecourt retailers should consider featuring a temporary display such as free-standing dumpbins or a counter display unit to maximise any opportunities."
Meanwhile, Butterkist's Mistry says popcorn sharing bags and microwave formats need to be merchandised among frequently purchased categories such as crisps and snacks. A Butterkist pos solution is available for till points to help drive impulse purchases. She adds that retailers should encourage customers to trial new products by offering reduced prices and using multi-buy mechanics to get them to buy into more than one flavour variant.
"When we had our Subway counter installed we used that as an opportunity to re-lay the store.
"As part of the changes, we decided to feature the Big Night In section more heavily, especially as we are a 24-hour, 365-days-a-year store. Opposite our alcohol section and next to the Subway queue, we have five linear metres of mixers, carbonates, snacks and sharing confectionery.
"Friday nights are busy for us so we make the most of this by of grabbing people's attention while they're in store.
"We make great use of clip strips, often for less obvious things such as beef jerky, straws and decks of cards. But they all help to increase basket spend and get the message across to the customers that we can supply all that they need and more.
"We've also got more off-shelf displays for shippers, and hods for things like Pringles and other sharing crisps, which work really well in different sections around the shop."
Tips for sales success
If possible, display best-selling chocolate, crisps and drinks in their own 'Big Night In' bay.
Remember shoppers will be catering for a variety of tastes so ensure you stock a range of snacks with different tastes and textures.
Display products in the right place; best sellers should be positioned 1m-1.4m high.
Multi-face key lines this helps to ensure availability and attracts shoppers to make impulse purchases.
Use secondary sitings to make sure that consumers see the products him! research has found that only 13% of people visit all the aisles in convenience stores.
Make sure displays are prominent and well-stocked towards the end of the week to capture top-up shops before the weekend when the Big Nights In are more likely to take place.
Ensure you use all POS available to you, such as dumpbins and counter units. These are guaranteed to raise awareness and generate sales. Handy equipment such as Mars' Slenda Glenda can be used to display your bagged confectionery around the store to drive impulse purchases when your customers are preparing for a Big Night In.
Keep abreast of the TV schedules so you know when the finals of popular shows such as Strictly and The X Factor take place (December 13 and 19 respectively) and remember occasions such as the Eurovision Song Contest when many people get together.