Batteries Recharge For Fall Selling Season

By Jeff Malester On Sep 27 2004 - 6:00am




With the holiday months fast approaching, rechargeable batteries — namely nickel metal hydride (NiMH) — as well as long-lasting alkaline cells, are expected to play a major role in the hot fourth-quarter consumer electronics selling period, as consumers look to feed their power-hungry digital cameras and camcorders with higher capacity cells and faster chargers. Getting the right product in the best selling location creates an instant charge for revving up end-of-year sales.

“Presentation will be key to the upcoming holiday selling season,” said John Daggett, director of corporate communications and marketing services at Madison, Wis.-based Rayovac. “More and more retailers are very anxious to place batteries in high-traffic areas, in secondary displays, cross-merchandise them with products throughout the store and also place them in the front-end sections or in checkout lanes.”

Rayovac, which sees battery unit sales flat, with dollar sales flat to slightly down, also anticipates stabilized pricing in the alkaline category, which is a positive sign for the overall battery category, said Daggett.

“Historically, back-to-school is the lead-in to the holiday selling season, and we fully expect sales increases in the fall. In addition, we feel inventory levels are right at retail, and the industry is in a strong position for the upcoming holiday season,” Daggett said.

Rayovac's main battery thrust this fourth quarter will be larger packs of its Maximum Plus alkaline batteries. The company plans to feature attention-grabbing packages and displays that highlight performance, and the fact that it will be offering consumers more batteries per pack at a value price.

The battery business remains ever-optimistic, with sales expected to reach $101 billion in 2004 — a 4.8 percent rise over 2003, according to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). To back this up, average back-to-school spending on electronics is expected to jump 15 percent this year, reaching $101.03, said the National Retail Federation.

To meet this demand, Panasonic will be offering flexible and powerful battery solutions for all consumer lifestyles, whether alkaline cells, or its 2300 mAh AA NiMH rechargeable battery system.

“Panasonic is optimistic that the diversity of new and improved portable electronic devices will continue to fuel the rising demand for the batteries that power them,” said Christine Denning, marketing communications specialist for the Secaucus, N.J.-based company.

Digital still cameras and MP3 players continue to fuel rising CE sales. With digital camera sales expected to surpass 15 million units and $4 billion at retail in 2004, according to the CEA, and sales of MP3 players predicted to grow at an average annual rate of 45 percent for the next six years, the Panasonic Battery Group is “well positioned to benefit from these promising opportunities,” said Denning.

Panasonic's key product for the fall is its 2300 mAh AA NiMH battery and Quick Charger System. The charger offers an LED screen that monitors battery charging, an alarm that notifies users when batteries are fully charged, a car adapter and a carrying case. The charger powers four AA 2300 mAh NiMH cells in 30 minutes. Four similar AAA types are included in the set. Suggested retail is $44.99 and availability is September.

“Rechargeable NiMH batteries are the fastest growing segment in the battery category,” with over an estimated 20 percent growth rate, said Paul Perryman, national sales manager at GE/Sanyo. “The driving factor is that more and more high-drain products are being introduced in the marketplace — digital cameras, MP3 players, cordless mice for computers, CD players and toys like Game Boys. The rechargeable category is expected to grow because of cost, performance and environmental concerns,” said Perryman.

GE/Sanyo is offering what it calls the “fastest NiMH high-capacity charger in the world today.” The new charger can power up two GE/Sanyo 2200 mAh batteries in 15 minutes, or four AA NiMH cells in just 30 minutes — any capacity, any brand, said the San Diego-based company. It can charge AAA batteries in 30 minutes. The unit will be available in the fourth quarter for estimated $49.99 suggested retail, and packaging will offer a charger and four 2200 mAh batteries.

The rechargeable battery market should be a very strong category for the fourth quarter, according to Camarillo, Calif.-based Lenmar Enterprises, with lithium ion (Li-Ion) and NiMH batteries proving to perform significantly better than alkaline cells.

“When first introduced to the market years ago, rechargeable batteries were lacking the technology to compete with primaries, and as a result, consumers saw them as a nuisance, with no performance benefit,” recalled Craig Taylor, president/CEO of Woburn, Mass.-based Uniross Batteries.

“Rechargeable technology has come a million miles over the past 20 years and more consumers will avail themselves to this technology. Over the next three years, there will be a significant paradigm shift in the battery category consumption, with rechargeable products garnering a 20 percent share of consumer battery dollars. Now, consumers recognize rechargeables as a convenience item and alkaline as more of an annoyance,” continued Taylor.

In recognizing the need for effective power solutions for travelers, Uniross is offering its Globe Trotter Pocket, rechargeable power that fits in the palm of a hand. The ultra-light Globe Trotter Pocket comes with three travel plugs, making it easy to keep cameras, MP3 players and other high-drain handheld devices fully charged while on the road.

The unit, which charges up to four AA or AAA NiMH or nickel cadmium batteries, comes with two AA batteries and has a suggested retail range of $24.99 to $29.99.

“As we see the financial markets continuing to stabilize and consumer confidence on the rebound, we expect rechargeable battery sales will continue to be strong in the third and fourth quarters of 2004,” said Taylor. Digital cameras, expected to grow by 40 percent per year over the next three years, will continue to be the biggest driver of rechargeables. Alternatively, there will be a slow growth pace for primary alkalines, not to mention price erosion.”

Energizer has announced a series of advancements the St. Louis-based company says “raises the bar on rechargeable power." Energizer is rolling out two new chargers and an upgrade to its high-capacity AA NiMH rechargeable batteries.

A new charger, designed with convenience in mind, that packs four 2500mAh AA batteries, called the Energizer Compact charger, is said to be ideal for digital camera cases, small travel bags and purses. The unit has a “unique” sliding drawer that opens for charging and closes for compact storage. The charger, available in time for the holidays, has a suggested $19.99 retail.

A new Energizer 15-Minute Charger also adds convenience to the category. It does not require proprietary batteries to achieve the rapid charge, and the company claims it is the first to offer a 15-minute charge time on batteries up to 2200mAh. The charger comes packed with four rapid-charge 2200mAh Energizer NiMH rechargeable cells and carries a $29.99 suggested retail. It also will be available for the December holiday.

Sony also is featuring a new 15-minute charger, using 2500mAh cells. Called Ultra 15, model BCG-34HUE4 can charge up to four AA or AAA batteries, offers automatic charge cut-off alkaline battery detection and built-in temperature controls that provide optimum safety and performance.

A package includes 4 high-capacity AA 2500mAh NiMH rechargeable batteries, which are said to last up to four times longer than alkaline cells in high-drain devices. Availability is November and the suggested retail is $49.99.

Retailers will be challenged to continually offer the widest mix of battery solutions, while managing their inventory and minimizing shelf space, said Lenmar. By understanding retailer constraints, the company provides minimal product selections for universal appeal. An example is its Mach 1 Fusion2 that is able to speed-charge AA batteries or camcorder batteries, while simultaneously powering a cellphone or PDA.

The charger integrates a USB port so a user can charge AA/AAA/NiMH or Li-Ion batteries in the main recharge area, while recharging a mobile phone, PDA or MP3 player through the USB port — all at the same time.

As with Lenmar's original Fusion device, the Fusion USB charger comes standard with adapter plates for Li-Ion batteries for Sony and Canon camcorders and digital cameras and AA/AAA batteries, plus a set of four of Lenmar's 2300 mAh AA NiMH cells. Suggested retail is $99.95.

With the Fusion products, Lenmar includes a free adapter coupon for the customer to receive a dedicated plate to match their specific battery requirement. Lenmar also provides retailers a virtual inventory model that can deliver over 20,000 different power product applications directly to their customer's home.

To assist retailers with consumer battery needs, Lenmar has designed a fourth-quarter “battery guarantee program” to ensure retailers can provide the right product when a customer needs it. The company will place the appropriate product mix in stores to support the current hardware mix, with no payment until 2005. Plus, it will guarantee delivery for the other battery solutions directly to a customer within 48 hours. After Christmas, Lenmar will accept returns for all overstocked items.

Not only are digital CE products on deck for new battery-support products this fall, but phones also are going on-line with a new team of batteries. Oklahoma City-based Jasco Products, for one is supporting what it calls the “hottest phone on the market” — the new 5.8 GHz product — with higher capacity batteries needed to ensure maximum usage and prolonged time between charges.

Called the TL26411, the Jasco battery is a 3.6V, 830 mAh, 5.8GHz and 2.4GHz NiMH unit, which fuels the latest Panasonic phones. Suggested retail is $19.99. A sister battery, the TL26568, with specs of three AAA 1.2V, 750 mAh NiMH cells, fits the latest V-Tech phones. Suggested retail is $14.99.

“We believe our GE-brand phone battery line to be the most complete in the industry,” said Kent Shiplet, executive VP, marketing and sales. “We have significantly increased our SKU-count in 2.4 and 5.8 GHz batteries to support the increased demand for replacement batteries for the higher frequency phones.”

A power pack for digital cameras is designed to set a new standard for long-lasting portable power. Called the IQMAX Universal Powerpack, model DPS-IQMAX, the unit can deliver 8,000 mAh on a single charge, according to maker Brooklyn, N.Y.-based DigiPower. The 8-ounce power pack is small and light enough to clip on a belt, and it has a connecting cable.

The unit, which uses a Li-Ion battery, offers an onboard LCD display and comes with AC recharger and adapter with universal plug, that allows for ease of recharging in over 30 countries; camera connector cable; and four adapter tips, for a suggested $199.95 retail. Even though dedicated for use with digital camera, the unit can power PDAs, MP3 players and other portable devices.

Not all the fourth-quarter battery headlines are being grabbed by NiMH rechargeables. “We've traditionally seen an increase in alkaline battery sales during the holiday selling season, due to gift-giving and entertaining,” said Kara Salzillo, Gillette's manager of brand communications for Duracell. “Last year, approximately 1.45 billion batteries were sold industry-wide in North America during the fourth-quarter holiday period. Continuing in this trend, alkaline sales across the industry should be strong during the 2004 holiday season.

“With the tremendous growth in digital devices over the past few years, we anticipate new device introductions and strong sales of these gadgets during the holiday period,” continued Salzillo. “In particular, digital camera and digital audio products are two of the fastest growing categories in the market. This growth should drive purchases of both alkaline and NiMH rechargeable batteries, depending on the consumer's usage preference.

“We can also anticipate an increase in still camera and digital camera usage during the holiday season, which can yield greater battery consumption. The sales of AA batteries will be boosted by digital camera purchases, as many of the digital cameras are AA powered. Heavier users and 'early adopters' will lean toward usage of NiMH rechargeables, while many new users are expected to be less frequent picture takers.

“Newer users will favor the convenience of primary power options that don't lose their charge when not in use. They will be drawn to batteries like the CR-V3 lithium that fits interchangeably with AAs in many digital cameras, as well as alkaline batteries such as the Duracell Ultra and Coppertop batteries,” said Salzillo.

The Duracell 2300 mAh NiMH rechargeable is the key cell for the holiday season to meet the demands of high drain devices such as digital cameras. These are expected to hit the mass market beginning in September in 2-cell and 4-cell blister card packs at the suggested retail range of $6.99 to $12.99 prescribed by the Bethel, Conn.-based company.

The new 2300 AA rechargeables are said to be a significant enhancement over the existing Duracell 2050 mAh cells, with the higher capacity translating to a 12 percent increase in usage time between charges. The cells will complement the existing rechargeable line of products that include a Duracell 30-Minute Charger as well as a comprehensive line of Li-Ion and NiMH battery packs for digital cameras and camcorders.

Fast charging is also on the mind of Fair Lawn, N.J.-based Maxell Corp. of America, which is extending its rechargeable NiMH battery lineup this holiday with a new one-hour fast charger with convenient fuel gauge feature that allows consumers to see at a glance if their cells need recharging. This prevents unnecessary charging and prolongs battery life.

The Maxell P2004 1-Hour Charger consists of a charge unit and four AA 2300 mAh cells and features a Worldwide Voltage Capability to enable consumers to recharge their batteries anywhere they travel in the world. Available in October, the P2004 will recharge AA batteries for a suggested $49.99 retail.

For the first half of 2004, sales of branded replacement batteries for digital cameras have been a bright spot in the category as sales continue to soar, in part because the cameras are so easy and flexible to use that consumers are taking more pictures than they did with their conventional cameras,” said Peter Brinkman, VP, marketing.

“That increased usage and the fact that digital cameras have an abundance of power hungry, advanced features have convinced consumers that keeping branded replacement batteries on hand is a necessity.

“Continuous shooting, increased pixels, LCD monitoring and high-speed data storage features place high power demands on digital camera batteries. Maxell developed advanced Li-Ion chemistry for our line of replacement batteries to provide a solution to those demands. Our line also features consumer-friendly packaging, a strong on-shelf presence and a powerful brand name. In addition, we are recommending a dedicated digital camera battery plan-o-gram to our retail partners and also are offering them cross-referencing guides as an organizing tool for a complete digital camera replacement battery retail solution.

“The dramatic upward sales trend in the camcorder category has also continued to stimulate replacement battery sales, particularly in the digital technologies — MiniDV and Hi-8/Digital-8 and DVD-RAM and DVD-R video camcorder formats with their advanced features. Product benefits will further stimulate the category,” continued Brinkman.

“The camcorder category as a whole is showing growth, but the digital formats — Digital-8 and MiniDV — are performing best. In fact, as new camcorder formats have been introduced to the market, they brought in new camcorder consumers and graduated established consumers up from analog to new digital formats, making the need for replacement batteries even stronger. A prime example of the category naturally extending itself is the introduction of the new DVD camcorder format. This is further evidence of how the category constantly refreshes itself.

“The popularity of branded NiMH rechargeable batteries continues to increase,” said Brinkman, “driven by the proliferation of high-drain devices. As we expected, this trend continues to strengthen because of the increase in household penetration of digital cameras, PDAs and other high-drain devices and because consumers are comfortable with and recognize the value of using rechargeable batteries.

“Sales growth in the alkaline segment has continued to be driven by the popularity of larger pack sizes. This is being generated by an increase in battery usage overall. Our 48- and 24-pack sizes have accelerated that growth by giving retailers a tool to merchandise more effectively and to give the consumer even more value. Larger pack sizes have proven extremely popular with consumers because [users] are attracted to the combination of a brand name they trust and the tremendous value they receive on a per-battery basis when they purchase them," said Brinkman.

When it comes to computer-specific batteries, Battery-Biz, based in Newbury Park, Calif., is making available to resellers and distributors a lineup of over 500 notebook types.

Distributed under the Hi-Capacity brand, the selection includes nickel cadmium, NiMH and Li-Ion battery packs, as well as AC adapters. The company said it carries batteries and AC adapters for over 5,000 laptop makes and models, and that virtually all products listed in its database are regularly in stock.

New from Battery-Biz is the Hi-Capacity Universal Laptop Battery, a 65Wh external laptop unit, said to work with over 80 percent of laptops. The product, called the “most compact universal battery available,” by Battery-Biz, measures 6 inches wide by 4.5 inches deep by 0.88 inches high, and will power a laptop, while simultaneously charging the laptop's internal primary battery.

This lithium polymer cell, at $199.99 suggested retail, comes with a Universal AC Adapter ($99 value) and offers up to five hours of extended run-time. It includes a four-step LED gauge and a one-year warranty.

The popularity of battery chargers has encouraged makers to lean more on space-saving compact sizes. Gemini Industries, based in Clifton, N.J., is offering its new J44335 compact overnight charger for nickel cadmium and NiMH batteries. The unit includes folding AC prongs that make it more convenient to store in a camera bag. It will charge two or four batteries simultaneously, and comes with four 2000 mAh NiMH cells. The complete product is priced at a suggested $19.99 retail.

“One of the hidden costs of digital photography is the cost of batteries,” said Ken Furst, director of product development. “In fact, in one recent industry consumer survey, the biggest area of disappointment for users of digital cameras was the high power consumption/shortness of life of batteries. We feel that this device is a very high cost-effective answer for consumers looking to increase the fun of digital image gathering, without breaking the bank. Naturally, we also expect this to appeal to those users of AA batteries for portable entertainment devices, such as toys, games and others,” Furst said.

North American Battery (NABC) is continuing expansion of its NiMH rechargeable product line this fall, with the fourth-quarter introduction of a trio of value-priced, high-powered battery and speed charger kits. The San Diego based company said the new kits all feature charging times of one to two hours; smart charging technology, where the charger automatically shuts off when the battery is at full charge; and portability, with DC adapters included.

All kits will include at least four NiMH rechargeable AA batteries, rated at a minimum of 2300 mAh. These utilize one of the company's technologies to achieve higher mAh and run times. Suggested retail for a fully featured kit is $24.99 and lower.

NABC also will be offering a variety of merchandising options that will allow retailers to increase impulse purchases, by placing fast moving value-price-point battery/charger kits and battery packs at register checkout counters and in other high-traffic areas.

“The major trends that will affect the battery category in the fourth quarter are higher capacity batteries and faster battery chargers,” said Joel Seigel, president/CEO of Markham, Ontario-based Gentec International, in summing up the general direction of the battery business in the coming months.

“As digital cameras and camcorders become more and more power hungry, the battery industry must respond with higher capacity batteries," said Seigel. In the AA/AAA category, this will mean that 2300/2400 mAh batteries will become more common. Battery chargers will hit new lows in charging times, both in AA/AAA chargers and Li-Ion chargers. Gentec is introducing three rechargeable Li-Ion batteries to it Optex rechargeable battery line. Designed for digital cameras and digital video cameras, the LI11 is equivalent to the Canon NB-3L, for Canon PowerShot SD10, SD100 and SD110 digital cameras, and has a suggested $49.95 retail.

The LI31 is equivalent to the Olympus BLM-1, for Olympus digital camera models C5060, C8080 and the E-1 digital SLR, and comes with a $89.95 suggested retail.

The LI37 is equivalent to the Canon BP-522, for Canon Optura 10, 20, 100 and 200; Optura Pi, Optura Xi and ZR Series digital video cameras, and has a suggested retail of $119.95.

Harding Energy is introducing its Energy Quest 2-hour Rapid Charger Kit for what it calls a “highly competitive” suggested retail of $19.98. The kit, from the Norton Shores, Mich.-based company — which includes charger, four Quest Platinum 2000 mAh AA NiMH rechargeable cells, a 110V AC adapter and a 12V DC auto adapter — will charge up to four AA or AAA Quest NiMH batteries at the same time and will fit into a small case or pocket. Additional Quest 2000 mAh Platinum batteries have a suggested $12.95 retail for package of four.

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