By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
With the coming hot weather and its tie to outdoor activities, high-drain consumer electronics devices will be giving battery power even more of a test than usual. CE products — ranging from digital cameras and camcorders to wireless phones — can expect to do extra duty as the days get longer and users take vacation or head out for the weekend.
To handle the extra summer CE power needs, battery makers are beefing up product lines and recharging promotional schedules to fit the seasonal demand. Not all companies are emphasizing the same battery types or packages — the selection typically runs the gamut from alkaline and nickel metal hydride to lithium-ion, with multiple-unit packs expected to be much in demand.
The following is a roundup of sizzlin' summer products from the top mass market battery players — what's new, what's hot and what to expect from in-store merchandising and displays in the coming months.
Among the strong initiatives this summer will be a $100 million global marketing campaign kicked off by Bethel, Conn.-based Duracell. (TWICE, April 2, p. 6.) The company, for the first time, will employ its Coppertop trademark as its Copper & Blank brand battery's new on-pack name. This brand repositioning in Duracell's alkaline line will emphasize longer life through worldwide advertising and marketing.
Electric Fuel is counting on increasing store traffic and keeping consumers connected wirelessly all summer long with the dual marketing appeal of its Instant Power cellphone battery and Instant Power charger kit.
"The most critical issue facing battery manufacturers is to fulfill the promise offered by new cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) that have increased features and functionality," said Mitchell Horwitz, VP/North American sales and marketing at the New York-based company.
Electric Fuel's zinc-air 3300 mAh disposable battery, which is available in red, blue and black at a suggested $9.95 retail, clips on to a cell phone to provide a convenient back-up power source that gives up to 16 hours of talk time or three weeks of standby time.
Battery retails were reduced in April to $9.95 to match the $9.95 retail of the Power Cartridge used with the Instant Power cellphone charger.
The red and blue batteries will be available online sometime in mid-summer. The black batteries are also available at several retail outlets, such as Wal-Mart, under the Ever Active brand, said Electric Fuel.
Instant Power chargers, available in the second quarter, are sold as a kit — including universal Power Cartridge and reusable SmartCord — with a suggested $19.95 retail for both cellphone and PDA types.
"Our Instant Power Charger offers the end-user unlimited talk and work time, and it gives the retailer the opportunity to draw the customer back for our battery power cartridge," said Horwitz. "Each power charger provides up to three full charges," he said.
Energizer is meeting varied consumer needs and lifestyle changes by developing and emphasizing a portfolio of battery products.
"The relationship between batteries and [CE] devices has never been more evident," said Lou Martire, VP/trade development for St. Louis-based Energizer. "As consumers continue to unplug and live lives on the go, the number of devices they count on for work and play continues to grow. The newer sophisticated devices not only need more batteries, they need more technologically advanced batteries."
This includes the company's E2 battery, which provides power with its titanium formulation and enhanced cell construction. The E2 also offers other features such as an on-battery tester and a recloseable package.
Energizer E2 photo lithium batteries provide five times more power than ordinary batteries for digital cameras, again addressing a strong consumer need, said the company, while the flagship brand remains the Energizer battery, a long-lasting product well known to both consumers and retailers.
"By providing a line of products as part of a portfolio strategy, Energizer is helping retailers meet the wants and need of the growing number of consumers whose lives run on portable power," Martire said.
Energizer batteries, mainly alkaline types, also are the key battery brand sold through Batteries.com, an online company that is working to be a partner with brick & mortar retailers who attract battery-buying customers. With Energizer as its strategic partner, Batteries.com supplies retail shoppers with batteries for any CE device.
Retailers, using a dedicated in-store kiosk can tie their customers into the Batteries.com site and database. The entire battery-ordering process is credited to the retailer. (TWICE, July 24, p. 50.)
Digital camera users can benefit from a second-half launch of new photo lithium power cells from San Diego-based GE/Sanyo. Called the CR-V3 and CR-V6, the batteries are said to offer a longer run time than other photo lithium cells.
The units, which offer 1500 mAh — the highest for lithium, according to GE/Sanyo's national sales manager, Steve Scott — power up quickly after long-term storage, deliver quick response/recovery to flash units and are ideal for use in cold weather. Both batteries will be available at retail in June. Pricing has not yet been set.
GE/Sanyo, which is enjoying strong growth in the cellular phone battery arena, sees the wireless communications category as the hottest going, according to Fred E. Creamer, manager of business development. "As CE devices become more power hungry by adding more features, it's a great opportunity for the higher capacity batteries," Creamer said.
Along with the current surge in power for NiMH rechargeables — GE/Sanyo's Scott said he expects the power level for this source to hit 1700 mAh, or higher, within a short time.
Gemini Industries, in support of easy battery shopping, continues this summer to provide programs and packages to retailers and consumers. One example is the Clifton, N.J.-based company's patented plug-matching system for its cordless battery packaging, enabling users to easily find the right battery for their phones.
The users simply insert the old battery plug into the package's cutout, align the cords to match polarity, and, "voila," there is the correct battery for the cordless phone. The system eliminates the need for consumers to open the package to determine the right battery.
Along with a full-color photo of the plug type and the clear view of the battery in the blister package, consumers are offered an easy way to shop. The system eliminates unhappy shoppers and significantly reduces time, according to Gemini.
To provide 100 percent consumer satisfaction, Gemini is partnering with retailers in its 1-800 program. "This 800 number program offers consumers the opportunity to call toll-free to find the battery they need," said Debra Labruna, product manager.
Labruna, who recently joined Gemini, replaces Steve Reynolds as product manager for cordless phones. Reynolds continues with the company working on another category.
"There are times when the item is out of stock or not in the assortment. Rather than lose that sale or customer, the 800 number saves the sale and makes for a satisfied customer," said Labruna. Gemini, through its Southwestern Bell brand, offers signing and colorful and informative point-of-purchase materials for retail.
"Where else are retailers able to increase sales without carrying excess inventory," said Labruna." This program offers the retailer additional revenue, so it's a win-win situation all around."
When it comes to cordless phone battery promotions, Oklahoma City-based Jasco Products has launched a free "GE-brand Battery Center Display," to new retail accounts that come aboard with a $500 order. Retailers receive top headers, aisle displays and a cross-reference chart.
"Jasco's GE-brand cordless phone battery sales have increased 70 percent during the last year," said Kent Shiplet, executive VP/marketing and sales, "establishing Jasco as the No. 1 phone battery supplier.
"We see a clear trend toward sales of higher capacity batteries, ranging from 600 to 1300 mAh," continued Shiplet. "This has been fueled by growth in demand for 900 mHz and 2.4 gHz cordless phones."
This June, LEAP Energy and Power will unveil what it calls a new performance level in the company's NiMH batteries. As part of the planning process, the Toronto-based battery maker is creating a "noticeable difference" for it NiMH lineup. This will be supported by a national media campaign.
"First of all, we have made a visual impact at store level with a new point-of-purchase display unit," said Brent Meikle, president. "The new display unit creates a noticeable shelf impact, since the unit and the shelf sign occupy the same space as a standard blister card [3 3/4 by 4 1/2 inches]. With the impact of the sign on the actual unit, it communicates that both the packaging and unit, itself, are unique and not the same as the others."
In addition to shelf signage, LEAP's display unit provides shelf efficiency to retailers, since it uses minimal shelf space or the same shelf space as a traditional blister package, said Meikle. It can accommodate 15 units of LEAP AAA 4-packs, while the traditional blister pack occupies the same space with only eight units of AAA 4-packs.
The display unit is gravity fed, allowing customers better shopability because of neatness, greater visual appeal and a category identity that is special and different, Meikle said.
"The traditional blister packs are messy and difficult to shop. We have made LEAP NiMH batteries stand out among the rows of alkaline, NiCd, rechargeable and heavy-duty batteries. With our new unit, we have created an 'instant NiMH story' on shelf, with noticeable display signage and without occupying additional shelf space."
Through the design and evolution of such chemistries as NiMH, lithium-ion and lithium polymers, rechargeable batteries are currently more efficient and convenient than ever. Over the past five years, the CE battery market has experienced enhanced performance and smaller and lighter weight rechargeable packs, leading to a sales surge in portable electronic devices.
But, even as battery technologies have improved, the traditional charging methods have remained static, according to Westlake Village, Calif.-based Lenmar. This summer, the company said it is leading the charge to revolutionize the battery charging methodology.
Using an algorithm and patented smart charger chip, Lenmar said it has been able to maximize charge efficiency without fear of overheating batteries. "The rate of charge is about three times faster than any consumer charge currently available," said Marty Goldberg, president. "Not only will it charge the batteries much, much faster, it will simultaneously recondition the batteries while charging. This increases battery performance as well as battery life."
In addressing consumers, who understand the concept of having spare batteries, but who most often — with only minutes to grab their camcorders and gear — don't have the foresight to charge their batteries in advance, Lenmar, this May, will introduce its Mach 1 Speed Charger. The unit can fully charge a dead battery in 25 minutes. With memory not being a concern, this can take as little as 10 minutes.
The Mach 1 Speed Charger, which will have a suggested $99.95 retail, can rapidly charge a lithium-ion camcorder and digital camera battery in the home and in the car. It will efficiently charge most batteries for Sony, Panasonic, Canon, Sharp and JVC products. It is the first of a series of speed charger models to be introduced by Lenmar this summer. The company has launched a summer sales campaign to educate and promote its charger.
In addition, Lenmar is promoting Digital Camera Value Packs. Each unit includes a rechargeable battery, camera bag and mini tripod. Each SKU is packaged in a hanging clamshell and provides retailers high margins when sold in conjunction with any digital camera, said the company.
The explosive growth of the NiMH rechargeable battery — due to the tremendous popularity of digital cameras, with their enormous appetite for power — is the most exciting aspect of the batter business for Maxell Corporation of America.
Adding an additional strain on battery life as well as prodding consumers to take more pictures with their digital cameras is the user's ability to share images over the Internet with family and friends. Users of digital cameras, PDAs, portable music players and other high-drain devices quickly recognize the advantage of having a power source than can be recharged, said Peter Brinkman, director of marketing for Maxell's consumer products division.
"The challenge for retailers is to capitalize on this accelerated consumer demand with a merchandising strategy that reinforces the connection between digital cameras and rechargeable batteries," Brinkman said. "One way to do this is to merchandise them in both the battery and digital camera sections of their stores."
Increased popularity of camcorders — namely consumer-friendly hardware pricing, a wide variety of formats and products and two new digital formats, Digital 8 and Mini DV — is driving sales of camcorder batteries. However, the increase in format and model choices is forcing merchants to carry a wider variety of batteries, putting a strain on shelf space, Brinkman said.
"We have addressed this challenge with camcorder battery packaging that is 40 percent smaller than previous packaging, yielding greater space efficiency and allowing more product facings per square foot," said Brinkman. "In addition, the new packaging will have enhanced graphics and product communications, stressing format, battery chemistry and run time."
Another bright spot in growing battery sales is larger value packs, Brinkman said. He noted that despite declining sales of alkaline batteries industrywide, sales of 20- and 40-packs of AA and AAA batteries at Fair Lawn, N.J.-based Maxell have been growing impressively, giving the company a significant market share in the larger-size segment.
Maxell's 20-packs have a suggested $9.99 retail, dropping to $7.99, or even $6.99, on advertised special.
Millennium Rechargeable Power Systems is continuing to introduce high capacity, high performance lithium-ion and NiMH solutions to support the latest, most popular digital CE devices.
"As more and more high-tech gadgets enter the marketplace, we are finding that consumers desperately want high performance battery technology," said Susan Gross, marketing manager. "They want solutions that will improve the performance and run time of their portable devices. And they are willing to pay for it."
Through on-pack promotions, Gainesville, Fla., based Millennium is adding value to its battery line. Currently, all lithium-ion wireless phone packs include a free hands-on kit, a $19.95 value. An accompanying W3136 rechargeable wireless lithium-ion phone battery, itself has a suggested $45.99 retail.
"Replacement batteries and hands-free kits are the most popular accessories for wireless phones today," said Millennium's Gross. "By offering the two together, we are adding extra value to our product and boosting sales of replacement batteries in retail stores."
In line with the tremendous growth of the high-drain alkaline battery segment, the Panasonic Battery Group is offering its latest Panasonic Alkaline for Digital battery promotion. Geared toward the consumer who has adopted a "digital lifestyle," the Secaucus, N.J.-based CE battery maker is featuring new Panasonic Alkaline for Digital AA packs on clip strings — Buy 8, Get 4 Free — during select periods this year.
The company's current promotion features $2 off two AA- or AAA-size 4-packs of Panasonic Alkaline for Digital batteries. This also provides consumers with an opportunity to purchase batteries for high-drain CE products at a promotional price through June 30. The company said AA to AAA alkaline sales are running predominantly at a 65/35 split.
"Today's advanced consumer electronics demand high-drain batteries," said Christine Denning, marketing communications specialist in the Panasonic Battery Sales Group. Denning points to the numbers: according to A.C. Neilsen, high-drain alkalines accounted for 21 percent of total alkaline sales through food, drug and mass merchant outlets last year.
"With many CE products and toys requiring a minimum of four batteries, we recommend the retailer offer a variety of multi-packs," Denning said. "Ideally, retailers should stock 4-, 8- and 12-piece multi-packs.
"By showing diversity and mix in the battery presentation, the retailer optimizes sales opportunities," Denning added. "Cross-merchandising batteries with the products these power also demonstrates the retailer is a reliable provider that understands the power needs of the products they sell, and further demonstrates a desire to build consumer loyalty."
Although disposable alkalines are most familiar to consumers, because of the frequency of power depletion in high-drain products, NiMH rechargeables have become an appealing alternative. In many of the latest digital camera models, both alkaline and NiMH batteries are packaged as add-ons with the new camera, said Panasonic, namely its new AA size of 1600 mAh NiMh battery designed for the latest hi-tech digital electronics such as cameras, CD players and MP3 players.
"The one-time cost of a charger and batteries will, in the long run, save users money and convenience as they reuse their batteries hundred and hundreds of times," Denning said.
The battery business is rebounding strongly, with Nielsen data showing the category returning to historical growth trends of 7 to 8 percent, said John Daggett, director of corporate communications and marketing services for Madison, Wis.-based Rayovac.
"We think the trend will continue as the weather warms up. Battery sales will be driven by a return to the outdoors — taking our games, music and toys to the beach, camping and hiking. You'll see aggressive advertising by retailers and a shift to placing batteries in multiple locations, cross-merchandising and in high-traffic areas," Daggett said.
"We continue to see a trend by retailers to maximize their battery space. They are looking for packaging concepts to appeal to the multitude of consumers who shop their stores — consumers who want a lot of batteries and those that only want four," he said.
The growing interest in battery selection and presentation has steered Rayovac toward taking its peggable, recloseable packaging concept and adding another SKU. "We have found consumers like the concept of having a battery package that solves the age-old problem of what to do with their batteries, once the packages are open," Daggett said. "We've also found that retailers like a peggable multi-pack."
Regarding promotions, Rayovac is offering a free pocket calculator with specially marked packages of 16 AA Maximum alkaline batteries. Specially designed display vehicles showcase the promotion. Included are quick strips, tray packs and mini-sidekicks, so these can be cross-merchandised with school supplies, at checkout lanes and in other high-traffic store areas.
In addition, the company is running a "Buy Two, Get the Third Pack Free" promotion that allows consumers to get a free pack of batteries if they buy two packages of batteries. The promotion is in-store and the "free" battery exchange takes place at the register.
Rayovac said that later this summer its 1-hour charger — which, according to Daggett, has received good response from retailers — will go into widespread distribution.
Saft America reports that by updating its packaging with consumer-friendly, simple product-feature communications, it is gaining new business across all channels of distribution for its Polaroid, Nitro Power and Ultralast battery brands.
"Across all of the rechargeable markets, except cordless phone and remote control car batteries, we are seeing a trend to lithium-ion as the predominant chemistry, with NiMH serving as the opening-price-point technology," said Bob Roth, consumer marketing manager. NiCd and lead acid are become obsolete in these aftermarkets.
"In response, we have dedicated our product development efforts to being the first to market with all new lithium-ion packs and creating NiMH packs at new, lower price points. Because our batteries are manufactured in North America, we are able to get to market first on many new packs and offer competitive pricing on all our chemistry technologies
The U.S. Battery Group of Sony Magnetic Products of America will be introducing Sony Walkman-brand batteries this May. These are specifically designed to complement the company's line of portable CE and entertainment products, especially the Walkman line.
Sony will position the Walkman battery as the ideal Sony CE battery accessory for Sony hardware, music and video games, said Richard Latorre, manager of business development for Sony's U.S. and Latin America Battery Group.
The Walkman alkalines, which will be available in stores this summer, accompanying a lineup of Sony Stamina batteries, are designed to last longer when used with high-drain devices. The Stamina line is Sony's most powerful battery ever, designed with an improved technology for higher discharge performance as well as superior storage for longer life.
The major trend affecting the technology of rechargeable batteries, according to maker Ultralife Batteries, is the demand by CE equipment designers for smaller, lighter batteries with higher energy levels to power the increasing variety of portable CE devices. Since the battery is a major factor in the weight of these devices, designers are looking for the lightest, most powerful energy sources — polymer batteries, said Ultralife.
"The market for rechargeable batteries has grown as the number and variety of portable electronics products have increased, and as their costs have decreased," said Julius Cirin, VP/corporate marketing. "The demand for lighter, more powerful energy sources has caused manufacturers to adapt their technology to suit the diverse power requirements of these products."
Products that are increasingly using polymer batteries as the power source include cellphones, notebook computers, palm computers, personal audio devices and wireless communication devices.
The Ultralife Polymer Rechargeable Battery System is solid, with no free liquids that need to be contained by bulky, heavy cell housings. The result is a safer, thin, lightweight rechargeable battery with a wide operating temperature range and no memory effect, said Ultralife.
The battery, which can be customized to almost any length, width and thickness, can be designed around the available space in the product, instead of the product being designed to accommodate the size and shape of the battery, said Newark, New York-based Ultralife. The company's polymer cell is desirable for single-cell applications such as GSM and cellular phones, as well as large cell, high-capacity applications such as the notebook computer.
Two examples: The UBC750N weighs a little more than an ounce, and has a rated digital talk time of up to three hours, 20 minutes and a standby time of up to 6.5 days, depending on phone model. The UBC2300N weighs less than three ounces, and has a talk time of up to 10 hours and a standby time of up to 22 days. Suggested retails are $39.99 for the three-hour and $49.99 for the 10-hour.
"We have adopted a vertical market business model to enable us to fully understand the needs of the marketplace in an application-specific basis," said Cirin. "Our efforts are designed to increase product performances, lower cost and increase our responsiveness to market needs."
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.