As we long for spring on cold winter nights, the thought of cosy Big Nights In becomes increasingly appealing. Whether entertaining friends and family, or watching a football match or a box set on TV, Big Night In sales are higher than ever during this period as customers stay at home and crave comfort.

Best of all, the Big Night In is great news for Britain’s independent retailers and the wholesalers who supply them. Yes, health is increasingly a concern in our product selection, but we still want to enjoy ourselves. We spoke to some of the top suppliers.

It’s in the bag – or the box Chocolate is still number one choice for a night in with friends and loved ones, followed by candy, biscuits and crisps, says Susan Nash, Trade Communications Manager at Mondelez International – so there are plenty of opportunities for cross-category selling in depot to create the perfect Big Night In offer, focused on chocolate.

The evening snacking habit is worth over £6.5 billion and growing, says Susan: “What’s more, fifty two percent of all confectionery occasions take place with other people present, so a range of sharing formats is key to maximising this opportunity.”

Chocolate sharing bags are the fastest growing segment in standard chocolate. As category leader, Mondel?z is helping drive growth, introducing new size £1 promotional PMPs packs in its chocolate bags range, helping retailers improve price perception among shoppers and drive sales.

Premium chocolate is growing rapidly too, bringing in new, higher value shoppers. To capitalise, last summer Green and Black’s launched two new singles bars, Truffle and Praline, offering luxurious ways to unwind.

Chocolate tablets are also growing, and Mondelez has a leading share. Building on Cadbury Dairy Milk Oreo’s success the brand has brought out Cadbury Dairy Milk Oreo Sandwich, a layer of Cadbury chocolate sandwiched between mini Oreo biscuits.

In other Mondelez NPD, an important factor in our chocolate preference is that as we go through life, our tastebuds change. Some consumers look for a richer tasting chocolate with a higher cocoa percentage versus milk chocolate, while others find dark chocolate a little too bitter. Cadbury Darkmilk addresses both groups. Made with 40% cocoa, this new tablet combines a delicious hit of cocoa with a creamy and smooth taste in three variants – Cadbury Darkmilk Original, Cadbury Darkmilk Almond and Cadbury Darkmilk Salted. Original and Almond bars are also available in singles.

2019 also sees the return of Cadbury Bournville Orange. A permanent offering tapping the trend for orange chocolate, it will also be available in 2019 as a PMP.

Leaving chocolate for a moment Mondelez is also a leading player in candy. Perfect for an evening in with friends and family, new Wine Gums Mocktails adds non-alcoholic Strawberry Daiquiri, Pina Colada and Cuba Libre flavours to Mondelez’s much loved range of Wine Gum shaped jelly sweets.

Take home ice cream is another part of the Big Night In opportunity consumers reach for, to help them relax. Michelle Frost, general manager at Mars Chocolate Drinks and Treats says the UK ice cream market is a £1.2bn category, with value up 15.2% year on year.

Research by Mars Ice Cream reveals that a third of UK consumers say they entertain at home more than ten years ago. 75% of respondents offer ice cream as a dessert to their guests and one in three always keep ice cream at home for impromptu entertaining, second only to crisps, nuts, dips and cheese.

Looking at the specifics, ice cream tubs are now worth £137m, representing 34% of ice cream sales in convenience. Confectionery tubs continue to show growth, outpacing luxury tubs. Wrapped handheld ice creams, as in singles and multipacks, are worth £264m, making up 66% of ice cream sales in convenience. Instantly recognisable Mars Ice Cream Bar is the UK’s top ranking ice cream bar, followed by Snickers.

Also key to big nights in, the total frozen dessert market is worth £170 million, with favourite confectionery branded products continuing to perform well. Cheesecakes and Gateaux remain the two largest categories, but with so much choice on offer in the freezer aisle, there is a clear winner when it comes to ice cream for entertaining. Sixty-eight per cent of hosts opt for ice cream sharing tubs, with one in three (36%) preferring to serve ice cream on a stick and one in five (22%) an ice cream bar. When selecting ice cream to share with friends and family, seventy per cent look for great taste, followed by great quality (51%), value for money (38%) and recognised brands (24%).

When it comes to soft drinks, wholesalers should maximise the Big Night In occasion by stocking topperforming brands that provide choice, quality and value, says Adrian Troy, Marketing Director at Barr Soft Drinks. “Brands such as IRN-BRU, Rubicon and the Barr flavours range are perfect for Big Night In shoppers looking for soft drinks to share.

“Consumers increasingly aspire to improve their diets and live healthier lifestyles. That’s why retailers are looking to ensure their Big Night In offering includes a good choice of low and zero sugar variants to cater for everyone’s needs.”

However, consumers are not prepared to compromise on taste and a growing number look for low and zero calorie options featuring the full-on flavour in regular products, such as IRN-BRU XTRA, which is full of extra IRN-BRU taste, with no sugar.

The traditional ‘one size fits all’ concept doesn’t work for Soft Drinks, says Adrian Troy. Barr Soft Drinks’ new approach to managing the soft drinks fixture focuses on Health & Wellbeing, Taste & Fun and Lifestyle & Culture, three key drivers that are a major contributor to category growth in convenience retailing, including for the Big Night In occasion.

Barr has identified six specific shopper need states which cover all major soft drinks’ consumption occasions, including Big Night In, enabling retailers to merchandise the fixture and really engage shoppers: Tasty Hydration: Low calorie products with the health benefits of water and the great taste of a carbonate, such as Rubicon Spring.

Everyday Enjoyment: The backbone of the fixture needs a good range of great-tasting choices like IRN-BRU, the UK’s No.1 flavoured carbonate brand, and family favourites such as the Barr range, the UK’s biggest flavour selection.

Adult Social: Indulgent treats and options for those that avoid alcohol, such as Snapple, San Benedetto and Bundaberg.

Connecting Cultures: Barr Soft Drinks is also enabling consumers to enjoy a whole new world of refreshment with the launch of Rubicon Street Drinks. The boosting new range, from the UK’s No.1 exotic juice brand, features four flavours inspired by authentic street drinks from some of the world’s hottest places. Sharbat features the traditional Turkish flavour combination of Pomegranate and Rose: Mexico is the source of inspiration for Agua Fresca. India has inspired Nimbu Pani and African influences are found in Bissap.

“Staying in with good friends and a great selection of food and drink treats is the new going out,” says Paul Wheeldon, Wholesale and Foodservice Channel Controller at Eat Real, “but research suggests consumers are increasingly rejecting traditionally indulgent sweet and fatty items in preference for healthier snacks.”

The general trend towards healthier lifestyles coupled with a dramatic shift in shopping habits means consumers especially Millennials and Generation Z are leading the charge towards the newgeneration BNI. Time poor, more informed and more likely to snack frequently, they’re opting for more natural snacks with more diverse flavours and obvious health benefits. The Eat Real range of plant-based gluten-free and Vegan snacks includes Hummus, Lentil and Quinoa Chips, Quinoa Puffs and Veggie Straws.

Hummus and Lentil Chips contain 40% less fat than traditional potato crisps. “Some 40% of shoppers expect to pay a premium for healthy snacks,” says Paul Wheeldon, “good news for both retailers and wholesalers who should be increase shelf space for healthier snacks to capitalise on this growing demand.”

Another aspect of its response to increased demand for healthier snacks, Cofresh, the UK number one Indian snack brand, has introduced a lighter version of its popular potato-based ‘Grills’ range with 30% less fat, a healthier option for those wanting a little more heat from Big Night In snacks.

The uncertain UK weather has a big role to play in our Big Night In habits,says Matt Collins, Sales Director for Convenience, Wholesale, Discounters & Foodservice at KP Snacks:

“The weather’s impact on consumer shopping is huge, especially within a channel such as convenience, which benefits strongly from unplanned purchases. Independent stores can tap into this opportunity by stocking up all the essentials needed for last-minute get-togethers.”

Demand for healthier snacking products is high, says Matt Collins, but it’s not the biggest driver of snacking occasions, as crisps are still 38% of the snacking category. However, retailers are giving more range space for lighter alternatives to meet this need, and KP has taken a significant part in this change.

The KP Snacks portfolio includes 23 products that are 100 calories or fewer per pack including POM-BEAR, Hula Hoops Puft, Skips and Space Raiders. KP’s existing products are already 83% free from artificial flavours, 98% free from artificial sweeteners and 100% free from artificial colours.

On the NPD front, McCoy’s, the UK’s number one ridged crisp is continuing its mission of delivering full-on flavour with the launch of new McCoy’s Muchos, a distinctive crescent-shaped folded tortilla crisp, in three feisty Mexican flavours. Smoky Chilli Chicken, Nacho Cheese and Sour Cream & Onion, available now January in a sharing bag format. KP Snacks’ biggest launch to date, the introduction of McCoy’s Muchos will be supported with a £4 million investment including above-the-line and in-store campaigns later in the year. (see story in our news pages)

In other NPD, Hula Hoops Flavarings have been developed in response to consumer preference for bigger, bolder, full on flavour products. Available in two intense family favourite flavours, Tangy Cheese and Salt & Vinegar, the new product is launching in a 90g sharing format and a £1 PMP.

KP Snacks’ Big Night In portfolio also includes KP Nuts’ new on the go range and Sharing Nut Mixes, launched in direct response to the growing trend for healthier snacks, Butterkist, the nation’s favourite popcorn brand, and new McCoy’s Chips, crinkle cut chips for a full-on chip shop experience.

Shoppers wanting to focus on nutrition and goodness should consider potato skins as convenient snacks for a big night in, says Marie Medhurst, Sales Director at Bannisters Yorkshire Family Farm. Bannisters was the first to bring traditionally baked frozen jacket potatoes to retail and have since developed a range of potato products and snacks that are all gluten free, made with British potatoes and can be heated in minutes, straight from the freezer, and served with dips or as part of a sharing plate.

Scott Bayliss, Channel Director – Wholesale at drinks supplier Molson Coors reckons Smart phones and smart homes are transforming the ways consumers socialise: “Staying in is no longer seen as the dull option, far from it – technology allows us to get pretty much anything we want at the click of a button, from the latest films to amazing restaurant food. Consumers remain cautious about overspending, and for many, a big night in is a great way to relax or socialise at home and save money.

“For the big occasion-driven night in, consumers want the variety of drinks they expect from a pub or bar, often with ideas of how to recreate a special serve at home. For a more low-key get together, drinkers tend to opt for familiar favourites, such as beers that go well with popular take-away food. So it’s important that convenience stores stock options that meet a broad range of ‘at-home’ occasions, from familiar favourites like Carling served cold straight from the fridge, to more premium and inspiring choices like a Rekorderlig Botanicals Rhubarb- Lemon-Mint that can be served loaded with ice and some fresh mint.”

Michelle Younger is Marketing Manager at Aimia Foods, owners of iconic British malted milk brand Horlicks, a family favourite with 99% loyalty among current consumers.

Horlicks recently unveiled their new improved Horlicks Instant Light Chocolate, rewarding their loyal consumers with a more indulgent taste experience. Michelle explains:

“Our new improved Horlicks Instant Light Chocolate builds on our unique malty taste heritage with its greater appeal to chocolate lovers, particularly families with children who are keen to explore healthier alternatives to hot chocolate. Consumers can choose from our Traditional Horlicks and Horlicks Light Instant, famed for their unique malty taste or opt for a more indulgent experience with new improved Horlicks Instant Light Chocolate.”

Dan Harwood, Head of Wine Education for Halewood Wines & Spirits, sees the Big Night In as one of the biggest sales opportunities around: “Whether it’s getting friends together for an impromptu night in or celebrating a special occasion, these types of nights increase basket spend time and time again, and can be relied upon year on year. For big nights in shoppers not only want choice in wine, they want retailers to help them find exactly what they’re looking for, for instance having clear and enticing displays highlighting wines at all price points for specific needs and giving examples of the best food and snack pairings.”

Being short of cash after Christmas is a big reason why people opt for Big Nights In, says Russell Tanner, Marketing and Category Director at Tangerine Confectionery:

“With summer some distance away and shoppers still feeling the pinch from the festive season, it’s not surprising over half of British adults choose a night in over a night out. The confectionery market has benefited considerably from this trend and wholesale managers would be wise to offer their customers a range of options, with sweets in shareable tubs, bags and cartons being especially popular for a Big Night In. In addition, wholesalers should provide a core offering of consumer favourites from trusted brands alongside other key snacking categories.

“Nostalgia has become one of the biggest drivers of confectionery and this is particularly relevant when targeting ‘Big Night In’ sales. Consumers buying sweets to share with their family are keen to purchase the sweets they loved when younger and introduce their children to their favourites.

“The relaunch of the Barratt brand ties in perfectly, as do Barratt’s new Softie variations. The soft gum twist on favourites like Refreshers, Fruit Salad, and our latest vegetarian addition Dip Dabs, provides a modern take on nostalgia by introducing shareable versions of classic single treats.

“The Big Night In occasion can also be seen as a weekly indulgence with luxurious ingredients and sophisticated tastes. A core range for retailers in 2019 will be Tangerine’s Ruffles, in both the Peppermint and Raspberry variety. We expect these will prove popular for consumers wanting a different take on a night in that feels sophisticated and luxe, either for sharing or as a solo treat.”

“Our products are perfect fuel for an evening of Netflix, with low preparation times and minimal fuss,” says Mike Benton, Head of Snacking at Symington’s, brand owners of Mug Shot, Naked Noodle, Naked Rice and ilumi. “We’ve consistently found that for these occasions consumers are seeking products with more authentic flavours, which are still convenient and filling.”

Our binge-watching habit has fuelled the growth of Symington’s brands like Mug Shot The Big One, up 21% over the last year and Naked Noodle, growing 30% annually and with 43% of the authentic pots category. Available in ten authentic pan-Asian flavours, including Thai Green Curry and Beef Pho, and with preparation under five minutes, it’s an excellent choice for a big night in.

Symington’s new Big Eat Noodle Pots are 33% bigger than standard pots and come in four varieties, Singapore, Green Thai, Mee Goreng and Chicken Penang. Symington’s have also launched Noodle Based Meal Soups which replicate the noodle bar experience at home or onthe- go and can be incorporated into a bigger meal as a course or side dish.

Another Big Night In treat from Symington’s, the Naked Rice range’s flavours complement the existing Naked Noodle range, including Chicken Katsu Curry and Malaysian Chicken Curry. Symington’s also make Ramen Soup Sachets and microwavable Naked Soup pouches.

Mark Walker is Sales Director at Swizzels, the UK’s fastest growing sugar confectionery manufacturer and one of the few remaining British sugar confectionery manufacturers. Swizzels continues to perform well in the confectionery market, with sales up +9% annually. “Big Night In continues to be a hugely popular trend,“ says Mark, “as consumers watch their spending.

Swizzels has the perfect ranges for family and friends to share on a big night in. Choos is Swizzels’ latest addition to the soft chew hanging bag category, hugely important for big night in. Swizzels’ hanging bags are worth £36.4m, up +11%, with £1 PMPs driving growth. Drumstick Choos and Refreshers Choos are also suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

Simon Knight, Sales & Marketing Director at Burts Chips reckons that despite consumers’ health conscious tendencies, taste remains the driving factor behind purchase, making it essential for retailers to consider products with strong flavours in putting together a tempting food-to-go offer. Boasting only 99 calories per packet and 40% less fat than Burts’ core range, Burts Lentil Waves come in three flavours, Sour Cream & Chive, Thai Sweet Chilli and Lightly Salted.

Burts got bottle

Burts Chips’ licensed products also offer retailers a real point of difference. Burts Original BBQ flavour crisps, their latest collaboration with number one bourbon brand Jim Beam combine the authentic taste of Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey with sweet, smoky BBQ flavours.

Back in the Soft Drinks section, Emma Hunt, Marketing Director, Vimto Soft Drinks agrees that with the rise of streaming services and bingewatching, the Big Night In is here to stay.

“Brexit is also causing a certain level of uncertainty, as a recent growth in Soft Drinks has been driven by the continued trend toward premium and occasion drinking within the take home sector, especially since one in four 18 – 24 year olds are now teetotal.

“But shoppers aren’t just looking for any old drink to serve when hosting friends and family at home, they’re conscious of what they are putting in their bodies.”

Sales of Vimto’s No Added Sugar range are growing +25%, contributing to almost half of all sales (48%). Emma Hunt says stocking both low and No Added Sugar drinks, as well as those with sugar allows consumers to have the choice whether to pay slightly more for a full-sugar version or less for a healthier version. Finally, with entertaining at home on the rise, soft drinks that can be enjoyed alone or used as a mixer present fantastic opportunities for retailers whilst saving precious chiller space. Vimto and Vimto Remix are available in various formats including 2L fizzy variants, perfect for sharing for a Big Night In.

Another company whose products are ideal for sharing is Perfetti Van Melle, Mark Roberts is Trade Marketing Manager at PVM. The confectionery market has seen bags and boxes grow +£14m in the last year, says Mark, highlighting the importance of sharing and gifting formats, but health is increasingly an issue for consumers.

Finally, Cassandra Stavrou is cofounder of PROPERCORN, the number one premium popcorn, growing ahead of the category at 40.8% annually. The rise of the big night in means sharing formats are more popular than ever, 74% of ready to eat popcorn sales.

PROPERCORN has become a staple of 18-35 year old snackers and is targeting both millennial shoppers and families who are seeking healthier alternatives for the Big Night In occasion.

PROPERCORN’s latest flavour Chocolate, made using Fairtrade cocoa, contains just 126 kcals per serving.

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