By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Powering digital cameras and other high drain consumer electronics devices, while at the same time ratcheting up the rechargeables that help keep CE hardware on the road, is the one-two punch driving the battery business. A trend toward larger size packages rounds out key initiatives.
Whether alkaline or lithium ion (Li-Ion) types for CE products or nickel metal hydride (NiMH) for rechargeables, batteries are fast becoming one of the most tech influenced accessories categories.
"Batteries will continue to follow the growth of technology and the consumer's desire for portability and convenience," said Lou Martire, vice president-trade development at Energizer. "As the demand for power-hungry digital cameras continues to grow, and with the introduction of new toys and devices, so will the demand for batteries [climb]," he said.
This summer, St. Louis-based Energizer will begin significant media support for its Energizer e2 AA 1.5-volt lithium photo battery. Said to be one of a kind, the battery delivers five times the power of an ordinary alkaline battery in digital cameras, according to Energizer. Suggested retail for AA or AAA e2 4-packs is $4.99.
With product performance of its Energizer Max alkaline AA and AAA batteries recently improved, Energizer said these will run up to 40 percent longer than ordinary alkaline batteries in AA and AAA sizes in high drain devices. These two cell sizes make up almost 80 percent of all batteries sold and are used in many of the newest portable devices, said Energizer. Suggested retail for Max AA and AAA 4-packs is $3.99.
In addition, Energizer has begun shipping an improved AA NiMH 1700 mAh product, up from 1600 mAh.
"The popularity of nickel metal hydride rechargeable batteries continues to be driven by wider acceptance of high drain devices such as PDAs and, especially, digital cameras," said Peter Brinkman, vice president for marketing at Maxell. "As we expected, this trend has accelerated in recent months because of the increase in household penetration of digital cameras and because consumers are familiar and comfortable with using rechargeable batteries," said Brinkman.
To help support the growth in rechargeables, Fair Lawn, N.J.-based Maxell is offering consumers packaging that effectively communicates battery chemistry, emphasizes recommended usage and communicates higher capacity availability.
Maxell's newest battery product is its P2001 Recharger/Battery Combination Pack at $24.99 suggested retail. The item includes a smart recharger and four AA NiMH batteries. It automatically detects the amount of charge required for each battery placed in the unit and charges accordingly. It is capable of recharging both nickel cadmium (NiCd) and NiMH batteries, and automatically recognizes either chemistry.
A second key trend shaping the battery business is the "importance of value to sales growth in the alkaline battery category, as represented by larger pack sizes," said Maxell's Brinkman. "Sales growth of the larger pack sizes is being generated by an increase in battery usage overall caused by the popularity and widespread use of battery-driven devices.
"Larger pack sizes — 20 packs and 40 packs — have proven extremely popular with consumers because they recognize the tremendous per-battery value they receive when they purchase the larger packs. With battery usage up overall, consumers are demanding value and they're getting it with larger packs," said Brinkman.
"We expect to see NiMH batteries continue to gain acceptance in high drain electronics devices like digital cameras," said Richard Latorre, national sales manager for Sony Electronics' U.S. Energy Group. "Rechargeable batteries offer a significant advantage in cost over alkaline batteries as they last longer and consumers can take up to 3,000 pictures on a single charge.
"Because of Sony's unique synergy between its battery lineup and its consumer electronics and entertainment hardware, retailers can offer consumers a very attractive hardware-battery product combination, allowing retailers to increase add-on orders and maximize their battery business," said Latorre.
Sony started shipping its NiMH One-Hour advanced Power charger and batteries in April. This compact unit — metallic in color — can charge AA and AAA NiMH or NiCd batteries in about one hour. The packages come with two rechargeable batteries and a fast charger. Some include a Sony Cyber-shot digital camera case. Suggested retails start at $34.99.
In addition, Park Ridge, N.J.-based Sony has been finding it successful to sell Walkman-brand AA alkaline batteries, dressed in unique packaging, as additions to displays of Walkman audio electronics products. The company plans to continue its five-month rollout with the new packaging concept to more retailers this year.
The first of new product introductions from Panasonic will come this summer with the debut of its AA nickel-zinc battery specially engineered for digital cameras, said Christine Denning, marketing communications specialist at the Secaucus, N.J.-based company. (See TWICE article, p. 53, April 15.) Called a first in the U.S. consumer marketplace by Denning, the product, which is said to average more than 50 additional shots over competitive AA alkaline batteries, is expected to hit retail shelves in August.
Panasonic recently introduced a Nickel Metal Hydride Rechargeable Batteries and Charger Deluxe Set. It includes six AAs and two AAAs with charger, and two unique C- and D-size adapters that make it possible, on a temporary basis, to use AA-sized batteries in applications that call for larger Cs and Ds.
This spring, Panasonic is partnering in a promotion with Blockbuster, where consumers can get an instant movie rental coupon with the purchase of specially marked Alkaline Plus multi-packs on store displays.
In a second promotion with Blockbuster, Panasonic customers receive a $10 Blockbuster GiftCard when they submit coupons found on Panasonic displays. Consumer also must send sales receipt and proofs of purchase from two packs of Panasonic Alkaline batteries for Digital Electronics, three packs of any Panasonic Alkaline Plus batteries, two single packs of Panasonic Photo/Electronic batteries or one twin pack of Panasonic Photo/ Electronic batteries.
During May, Panasonic is teaming with Valpak to provide $1-off instant coupons for Panasonic Alkaline batteries for Digital Electronics, and 55 cents off select sizes of Panasonic Alkaline Plus batteries until March 31, 2003.
New Platinum Power products from San Diego-based GE/Sanyo include a line of Li-Ion batteries for cellphones. These are scheduled for May availability and have a suggested retail of $49 and up.
"GE/Sanyo's premium Platinum Power line, as well as the advanced NiMH products, offer retailers the opportunity to increase their margins by up-selling products which meet customers' demands," said Paul Perryman, marketing and sales development manger at Sanyo Energy.
The company's battery products go hand in hand with other accessories in GE/Sanyo's new upscale line of Platinum Power wireless accessories, including headset and earbug with a convenient on/off/mute switch located on the ear piece.
The Platinum Power line also includes a 12-volt Car Charger and Hand-Free Speaker Phone Kit. The kits will be in stores by late spring with suggested retails ranging from $24.95 to $69.99.
It is expected that the rechargeable market will continue to explode for the remainder of 2002, with digital cameras the hot category, according to Westlake Village, Calif.-based Lenmar Enterprises. With high performing AA cells and faster battery chargers, the company anticipates this segment of the battery market to be very strong.
Lithium batteries seem to be the proven technology being used for higher demanding CE products, said Lenmar, as well as additional CE products that are utilizing LCD screens and compact size. With no industry standardization in size and shape of the battery packs, the technology seems to be stable for 2002 with NiMH and Li-Ion batteries. The after-market battery leaders will be the companies that can be first to market the new battery configurations and have an easy cross-referencing method, said Lenmar.
The company also expects to see further development for high-speed battery chargers. The batteries have evolved to accomplish a small, stable size with high capacity. Now, the consumer is demanding faster charge time to use the battery power.
"Everybody knows how quickly digital cameras burn through batteries," insisted Marty Goldberg, Lenmar president. "Sell-through for Lenmar's NoMem Pro 1800 mAh rechargeable AA batteries are moving faster than a 2 gigahertz processor," claimed Goldberg.
Committed to power solutions for digital cameras, Lenmar is offering a "perfect" accessory to supplement battery sales, its OmniSource "Anywhere-Everyway" Power System. This three-piece kit allows digital camera users to power their camera through the AC or while traveling. It will also charge the lithium ion battery on board or externally in the home or on the road. Models are available for Sony M, L, S and C; Nikon; Fuji; Canon; and Kodak. Suggested retail is $79.95.
This summer, Lenmar will be featuring its "Ten reasons to get another Lenmar product" promotion. The company is offering consumers $10 incentive rebates for the purchase of a second Lenmar item. The company will cross-merchandise the program with each product.
Later this summer, Lenmar will debut its Mach 1, One Hour AA charger, including a new ad campaign that will feature a "fast and cool" performance theme. The company also is promoting full line-digital camera displays available as freestanding 2- or 3-sided with 24-inch panels.
Jasco Products, which offers a wide range of GE-brand cordless telephone batteries, is offering a popular new addition called GE-brand TL96158.
The battery is compatible with the newest line of GE 2.4 GHz cordless phones now on the market.
The TL96158 is an NiMH rechargeable battery that is more environmentally sound than standard NiCd types, said Cameron Trice, VP/product development. He said this NiMH battery offers a higher capacity rating than most batteries, "leading to optimal performance and extended talk time in 2.4 GHz cordless telephones. We offer a full line of 2.4 GHz NiMH batteries to keep up with the growing demand of cordless batteries on the market," he said.
GE batteries from the Oklahoma City-based Jasco are sold in consumer-friendly packaging, with each battery pack designed with a photo of the battery plug and a complete list of cordless phones that the battery fits. "In addition, our double-card package is the most secure in then industry," said Trice.
Gemini Industries counts heavily on use of its Plug Matching System, a standard graphical part of the packaging of all Southwestern Bell Freedom Phone cordless phone batteries having a plug. Most of the batteries in Gemini's line have a plug type, said Patricia De Cristoforo, assistant product manager at the Clifton, N.J.-based company.
The system enables consumers to quickly and easily identify the right battery for their cordless phone. It also eliminates the need to open packages, significantly reducing returns and, ultimately, providing consumer satisfaction.
Gemini also is making available to retailers an array of point-of-purchase materials and signage. Various items include colorful displays that outline the Plug Matching System and an internal 800 number to call if the correct battery is still not found.
Signs of a rebound in the overall battery industry should be apparent in the last half of 2002, with overall growth in the low single digits, according to John Daggett, director of corporate communications and marketing services at Madison, Wis.-based Rayovac.
"We are optimistic over all the long haul that the industry will rebound," said Daggett. "This is based on the fact that consumers have fully embraced their portable lifestyles and are not likely to abandon them. The recession may have slowed their consumer device buying habits, but they still need batteries to power their current plethora of battery-powered products."
Working on alkaline battery product improvement and new graphics, Rayovac is supporting Maximum Plus, an alkaline cell that is said to deliver more power for the money. This long-lasting alkaline offers performance improvements of up to 28 percent over the current product when used in certain high drain devices, said Rayovac.
This spring Rayovac has been repeating a retail promotion that encourages sales of batteries and gasoline. Called the Free Gasoline promotion, it offers consumers a free $10 prepaid gasoline card in return for purchasing three multi-card packs, three Clear Value packs or five carded packs for Maximum alkaline batteries.
The back-by-mail offer had been shipping until the end of April and the consumer offer is good through the end of May.
North American Battery Co. (NABC) is introducing this spring a complete line of Polaroid-brand Photo Lithium batteries and is expanding its Li-Ion Digital Camera battery line by 150 percent, according to Bob Roth, VP/sales and marketing of the San Diego-based company. "Which means we cover 100 percent of the market needs for portable power for digital cameras," said Roth.
NABC also is focusing on offering better performing, lower priced AA NiMH rechargeable batteries for CE products in new charger battery configurations and in a portfolio of brands, including Polaroid and UltraLast, said Roth.
Suggested retails for the Photo Lithium line are $4.99 to $9.99, while the Digital Camera Li-Ion range will retail from $24.99 to $39.99. The company's NiMH AA rechargeables will range from $4.99 to $19.99.
An addition to NABC's portfolio of product this spring is its newly licensed Bell Equipment line of cordless telephone batteries and accessories. With the line coupling name brand and value price with consumer-friendly packaging, suggested retails will range from $2.99 to $14.99.
NABC also is launching this spring a new Web site-based battery to product cross-reference program. In addition, the company is offering a format available to retailers who can not only browse products, prices, specifications and pictures, but can order directly off the Web site, then track and follow up on an order status.
Internet retailer Technuity, which sells to consumers on its battery.com site, finds the battery business, overall, to be good. "As consumers continue to demand more and more portability out of their devices, we see battery sales trending upward," said Eric Tobias, VP/marketing. "We have seen a solid increase in the digital camera arena. Rechargeable battery packs that support the higher-end cameras are really doing well.
"The Internet is such a great medium for cross-referencing, so categories that rely heavily on data (like camcorder batteries and cordless phone batteries) continue to do well," continued Tobias. "As devices become smaller and smaller, extended battery life is harder to achieve. Consumers are seeking a second battery to combat this issue. We not only see this on batteries.com, but all the Web sites that our configurator technology supports."
For travelers who want to keep cellphones and PDAs primed for power between appointments, New York-based Electric Fuel is making available its Instant Power Travel Charging Kit in 2-in-1, 3-in-1 and 4-in-1 selections.
An electrically independent Instant charger, which fits in a pocket, is bundled with one, two or three adapters designed for use with different power sources. These include a USB adapter for use with laptop or PC, or a "Sync & Charge" cable that synchronizes and charges a PDA simultaneously; a wall connector that plugs into any 110-volt outlet; and/or an adapter that draws power from an auto cigarette lighter.
The suggested retails range from $19.95 for the 2in1 Charger to $49.95 for the Instant Power 4in1 Executive Travel Kit.
"As the demand for rechargeables grows stronger, we are eager to move ahead and enhance our current line with products that will improve performance and add convenience," said Patrick Kopooshian, VP/sales at Millennium Rechargeable Power Systems, Gainesville, Fla.
Millennium product plans for the coming months include the introduction of an AA/AAA one-hour rapid charger and improved capacity cells.
"As high [drain] devices become more common in households everywhere and consumers become more knowledgeable on the advantages of NiMH, we are working to make our products even better and even more convenient," said Kopooshian. He emphasized longer run time, more power and faster charge, combined with a Lifetime Replacement Guarantee on all cells and excellent pricing.
Millennium also is planning to introduce this summer a countertop display unit for its AA wall charger, with four AA cells.
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.