That’s home entertainment

There are many reasons why consumers have turned away from the on-trade. Reduced disposable income, the smoking ban and long waits for service can all be implicated, but the brutal truth is that many people are capable of organising a party in their own home that’s as good, if not better, than what’s on offer in pubs and restaurants.

The sales trends have been in the off-trade’s favour for years. And now, with more and more homes geared up for home entertainment – spacious barbecue areas, widescreen TVs, gaming consoles, Jamie Oliver cookbooks on every shelf – the big night in has embedded itself well into our culture.

A Euromonitor report earlier this year identified “home as an entertainment venue” as one of the top 10 consumer trends of 2010, predicting that “this year will see even more consumers eating in and socialising in the home cocoon”. It quoted Andrew Warner of electronics brand LG, who said: “Nothing is recession-proof, but people are still buying televisions and audio equipment.”?Marks & Spencer was quick to spot this consumer movement and has capitalised

on it with its £10 Dine In meal deals. These promotions provide a restaurant-style dinner for two at home, including a bottle of wine.

BWS category manager Andrew Bird says the offer has been “hugely successful”. He adds: “When we asked our customers two years ago what, if any, spending cuts they would be making, they told us eating out was the first bit of discretionary spending they would cut out.

“Following this, M&S decided to recreate eating out as closely as possible in the comfort of your own home. The Dine In popularity has continued to increase each year.” The deal has also demonstrated there is more to wine retailing than crude discounting. “On the back of this we have reduced our other wine promotions, as Dine In is far more effective than price cuts,” he says.

Clare Griffiths, vice-president of European marketing at Constellation Wines, agrees there has been a “definite shift towards at-home dining and entertaining”. She adds: “This big night in trend is backed up by UK wine sales, which show the off-trade, with value sales growth of 4.5%, is continuing to significantly outperform the on-trade.

“TV cookery and entertainment programmes, such as Channel 4’s Come Dine With Me, are also encouraging people to spend more time entertaining at home, and this trend looks set to continue into the winter.” The series is sponsored by Hardys.

But the big night in does not have to be based around a dinner party, or even cooking. Debs Carter, marketing director for Beverage Brands, says: “Great nights in are always high on the agenda for WKD’s consumers. Our research shows that such evenings are extremely popular and regular social occasions. At home, men get the chance to focus on things dear to them: gaming, poker, music and watching major sporting events on TV.

“They use fun activities or sports events as a focus for getting their mates together. Guests won’t expect fine dining or thought-provoking after-dinner conversation, but will anticipate refreshments, snacks, plenty of banter and an enjoyable reason for meeting up – something they can all participate in.

“For many such consumers,” Carter adds, “avoiding the expense of taxis and transport means more money to spend on their preferred brands. It’s all about well-known products here – top brands are the ones most likely to be selected so off-licences should give them prominence on-shelf and in chillers.”?Simon Harrison, wholesale commercial director at AB Inbev UK, says: “There is an increase in staying-in as people spend more leisure time at home to beat the credit crunch, and this is an opportunity independent retailers can target. The big night in occasion is generally when people relax at the end of a hard week with a partner or friends in front of the TV, with snacks and drinks.

“In addition to the traditional big night in, we are also seeing an increase in ‘games night’ occasions, revolving around interactive consoles and computer games, which often involve groups of friends who are relaxing together.

“By gearing up to cater for these two different occasions through focusing on the key brands and having adequate stock, retailers can benefit from changes in consumer behaviour and cash in.”?Might the trends reverse as the economy gets back on track, leading to a decline in home entertainment? CGA Strategy, the body which collates data from the on-trade, believes the sector’s decline is mapped out for another five years, after which there may be a bounce-back of sorts.

It observes a “weekend millionaire” phenomenon, where consumers ration nights out to a handful of special occasions a month, and spend the remaining evenings either in their own homes or in those of friends. This behaviour is becoming ingrained and will probably still be evident even when prosperity returns.

The Euromonitor report says: “Undoubtedly, many consumers will return to pre-recession spending patterns, but for some, their views on consumption and their behaviour may never be the same again. Globally, people under 35 will largely retain the values of thrift, simplicity-seeking and green spending that they have been shocked into learning during the recession when they’ve been forced to focus on price and value.”