By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
The battery business keeps charging ahead, with high-drain consumer electronics benefiting from many of the new technologies, especially a big push in rechargeable nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) types and chargers.
While industry direction mainly still points toward alkaline batteries that power moderate-drain CE products — games, CD players and boomboxes — within the past year there has been growing interest in premium alkaline batteries for high-drain products such as digital cameras.
In addition, battery makers are rolling out even more powerful, longer lasting power sources — rechargeable NiMH batteries for heavy daily-use, high-drain devices such as palmtops and digital phones.
"The AA battery market is getting more confusing for the consumer by the day, with standard and premium alkaline batteries, plus a variety of rechargeables," said Joel Seigel, president/CEO of Gentec International.
"The best bet for the battery-hungry family is to purchase a fast nickel-metal hydride charger and enough sets of batteries to power their various devices. Then it comes down to training the family to always have a few sets of batteries charged and ready to go."
The newest NiMH offering from Markham, Ontario-based Gentec is its Optex Rapid Charger, a one-piece unit with four 1600mAh AA batteries that will charge the set in about five hours. These 1.25V batteries have a slightly higher voltage, which provides peak power to high-drain devices for a longer period of time, said Gentec.
The batteries, which are compatible with most devices, and especially digital cameras, have a suggested retail of about (US)$32 for four with a charger. A four-pack of AA cells is about (US)$16 retail. Both items will be available in late October.
Gentec has other power options for digital cameras, including the DCAC37, a 3.7V universal AC adapter that will power virtually any camera with a DC power input. Suggested retail is (US)$32. Five lithium batteries are also available for specific digital cameras made by Nikon, Fuji, Ricoh, Canon and Sony. Suggested retails range from (US)$45 to (US)$65.
"Selecting the right battery for the right application depends upon how the electronic product is engineered," said Christine Denning, marketing communications specialist at the Panasonic Battery Sales Group.
"If the product is designed to achieve peak performance by operating on continuous high-drain power, as is the case of a digital camera, we recommend a rechargeable NiMH battery to provide top performance, as well as offer convenience and economy.
"Today's rechargeable technology has advanced, offering increased power and decreased battery charging times," Denning continued. "These improvements have made rechargeables attractive to a greater number of consumers than ever before. Rechargeables also strike a chord with consumers who are economy-minded and environmentally conscious," she said.
To this end, Secaucus, N.J.-based Panasonic is offering a new 1600mAh AA-size NiMH battery that is specifically designed to power advanced portable digital electronics that rapidly use up batteries. The company, which claims a first of its kind for its Deluxe Set for buying clubs, offers this product with six AA and two AAA batteries and a NiMH charger. Also included for added convenience are four C and D size battery adapters.
Compared to the standard product offering in the marketplace — two NiMH rechargeables packaged with a charger at a suggested retail range of $24.99 to $39.99 — the Panasonic product at a suggested $24.95 with a $5 mail-in rebate is a "unique value," Denning said.
A Panasonic promotion scheduled for this holiday season is the Panasonic Alkaline for Digital AA Buy 8, Get 4 Free packs on clip strips, set for a fourth-quarter retail debut.
To provide extra value to consumers throughout the holiday and post-holiday season, Panasonic ads in Sunday newspapers will provide a $2-off coupon redeemable at checkouts when consumers purchase two packs of AA or AAA Panasonic Alkaline for Digital batteries.
"The battery marketplace has always been driven by the influx of devices, whether it's powering existing devices or to accommodate the new ones," said John Daggett, director of corporate communications and marketing services at Madison, Wis.-based Rayovac.
"For moderate- to low-drain devices, alkaline is your best choice, because it offers long life. Walkmans, CD players, boomboxes and most games fall into this category. In fact, the vast majority of consumer products fall in this range," Daggett said.
For new high-tech CE products, which make up about 10 percent of CE universe today, said Daggett, consumers have several options to meet the high-drain demands. "If you use the device often, you should select the new rechargeable NiMH batteries because you'll save money. For example, in a digital camera, NiMH batteries will last nearly 1.5 hours before they have to be recharged, and they can be recharged up to 1,000 times," he said.
"Single-use alkaline would only last about 20 minutes, and so-called premium alkalines will last 36-40 minutes. But, in either case, the battery can only be used once.
"That's why the major digital camera manufacturers have stated publicly that consumers should use NiMH batteries in their products. Other devices that fall into this range would be PDAs, the new "Talk About" (a version of the old walkie-talkies), some MP3 players and pocket TVs. If you don't use the devices often, then the super premium alkalines are another option," Daggett said.
Looking to put its promotional efforts where the volume lies, however, Rayovac will be featuring its Maximum alkaline brand this coming holiday season.
Consumers can receive a free CD-ROM video game instantly when they purchase Rayovac Maximum alkalines from specially marked displays. Three titles, each with a retail value of up to $19.95, will be offered to encourage incremental consumer purchases. These include "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire: Sports Edition," "Disney Arcade Frenzy" and "Tomb Raider II." Along with the game, each disc contains two bonus programs.
The CD-ROM video game will be available is specially marked AA-8 Twin Packs or as a near-pack premium included in dedicated displays.
Another Rayovac promotion set for the upcoming holidays is a Buy Two, Get a Third Pack Free deal. Consumers will be instantly rebated the cost of the third battery pack. The promotion will be on dedicated display assortments with specially padded order forms on each display back sign.
Consumers can save up to $5 on any toy or game when purchased along with multiple packs of Maximum batteries. Savings can be instantly redeemed or received back by mail. Each display back sign will highlight the promotional offer and feature Rayovac spokesman Michael Jordan.
In a Holiday Store Check promotion, consumers can buy multiple packages of Rayovac batteries, send in the proofs of purchase and receive a check toward future purchases in the store where they purchased the batteries. The more batteries the buy, the larger the check they receive.
Lenmar Enterprises, firmly committed to rechargeable batteries, has stepped up its technology, offering what the Westlake Village, Calif.-based company said is the "world's fastest charger for camcorder and digital camera batteries." Called the Mach 1 Speed Charger, the unit charges lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries three times faster than any other charger, according to Lenmar. A standard camcorder or digital camera battery can be fully charged in 30 minutes, said the company.
The charger, which uses a lightweight switching power supply that allows it to operate on domestic and international voltages, also works with 12-volt outlets, so consumers can use it while driving. A three-level LED system indicates when the battery is at medium, high and maximum charge capacity.
The Mach 1 will charge all 7.2-volt Li-Ion camcorder batteries, and is recommended for camcorders that do not supply a separate charger and require inconvenient in-camera recharging. The display package contains the Mach 1, four adapter plates for switching power supply from 100V to 240V and a DC car cord. Suggested retail is $99.95.
To promote the Speed Charger, Lenmar is launching its first-ever, national TV ad campaign, starting in September and running through December 2001. It features three 30-second commercials on 16 cable channels. Hand-in-hand with the ads, the company is offering retailers new, complimentary in-store point-of-purchase displays.
Lenmar also said it has plans to develop and market a full range of chargers using a similar technology to the Mach 1. Upcoming models will charge 6V NiMH and nickel-cadmium (NiCd) camcorder batteries in about 30 minutes, and NiMH AA and AAA batteries in about 40 minutes.
"Alkaline and premium alkalines are definitely a convenient, reliable energy source, and they are very popular with consumers," said Marty Goldberg, Lenmar president. "But rechargeable batteries offer greater benefits, and when consumers become aware of rechargeables, they realize they are a better, more economical solution.
"As consumers purchase more high-drain devices, like digital cameras, PDAs and portable DVD players, they will quickly discover the value in rechargeables. Demand for rechargeables will grow, and the industry will move in that direction."
In support of this battery type, Lenmar is offering its line of NoMEM PRO NiMH batteries and chargers. In a retail counter display of NoMEM PRO product, Lenmar makes available its PRO99 quick charger with four 1700mAh AA batteries at a $32.95 suggested retail and the promotional PRO29 charger, with four AA 1600mAh batteries at $26.95 suggested retail. Also included in the display is the PRO415 four-pack of 1700mAh AA batteries at $16.95 suggested retail and the PRO407 four-pack of AAA batteries, also at $16.95.
"Rechargeable NiMH batteries are the hot ticket for digital cameras right now," Goldberg continued. "We're currently designing a compact charger that uses our patented Neotherm technology to efficiently and economically charge four NiMH batteries in less than an hour. And with Li-Ion batteries becoming more prevalent in digital cameras, I think you'll see increased demand for Li-Ion rechargeables, too.
"For moderate-drain products, I recommend rechargeable alkaline batteries that have the same attributes as standard alkaline. They are 1.5V, come charged and ready to use out of the package and hold their charge for years.
"Performance is initially the same, but rechargeables last 10 to 50 times longer, saving consumers a lot of money. And when the dealer sells a charging kit, he creates a loyal customer who will come back to buy more batteries."
The value that rechargeable NiMH batteries offer the consumer over the medium and long term is attractive, said Richard Latorre, national sales manager for Sony Electronics' U.S. Energy Group. "Rechargeable NiMH batteries last two to three times longer than alkaline batteries per charge and can be recharged from 500 to up to 1,000 times," Latorre said.
"One of the issues with charging, however, is that consumers aren't used to charging AA and AAA batteries," Lattore said. "In addition, the current chargers on the market are bulky, not very attractive, and most require eight to 15 hours to fully charge the batteries. Even so, the cost savings realized by using rechargeable batteries are impressive."
To answer this situation, quick chargers are now being introduced to meet industry demands, said Latorre. Park Ridge, N.J.-based Sony will debut a new NiMH charger and batteries later this year. The charger's design "is ultra cool — very Sony-style oriented," Latorre said. "It is slim, compact, metallic in color and quick for charging batteries in just about an hour.
Called the 1 Hour Advanced Power Charger, the package includes charger and two AA rechargeable batteries for a suggested retail that is expected to range between $29.99 and $34.99. The charger, available before the end of the year, can accommodate AA or AAA NiMH or NiCd types.
Peter Brinkman, VP of marketing at Maxell Corporation of America, feels there are two main trends currently shaping the battery business. One is the continuing accelerated demand for rechargeables, particularly NiMH, and the other is the accelerating sales growth of the value segment of the alkaline battery, with specific focus on larger pack sizes.
"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. We expect the trend to accelerate because of the increase in household penetration of digital cameras and because consumers are exhibiting a greater awareness and familiarity with using rechargeable batteries."
In support of rechargeable types, Fair Lawn, N.J.-based Maxell is offering new packaging that communicates battery chemistry to consumers. This emphasizes recommended usage and points out that Maxell offers the highest-capacity rechargeable batteries in the industry at 1600mAh.
"In the alkaline segment," continued Brinkman, "sales growth of the larger package sizes is being fueled by an overall increase in battery usage, caused by the proliferation 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."
Maxell's newest battery product is the P2001 Recharger/Battery Combination Pack, including a recharger, along with four AA NiMH batteries, for a suggested $24.99 retail.
The "smart" P2001 recharger automatically detects the amount of charge required for each battery placed in the unit and charges each accordingly. It is capable of charging both NiMH and NiCd batteries, and automatically recognizes either chemistry.
Emphasizing that NiMH is the preferred technology to power all the new high-drain personal electronics, Brent Meikle, president of Toronto-based LEAP Energy and Power, feels that the CE business "is no longer about toys and boomboxes." Manufacturers are looking for a battery to power their CE products, and the charging technology is advancing quickly, he noted.
Pointing out that NiMH is quicker and more convenient, charges quickly and is reusable, Meikle said, "the more high-drain items purchased by consumers, the more they want a battery to last longer and head toward NiMH. Personal electronics use a great deal of battery power and these devices are used often for entertainment and business, therefore battery replacements become a liability.
"NiMH lasts longer in high-drain applications — things like digital cameras and Discman. You can recharge and reuse it at least 500 times and get the same full energy in just a couple of hours. NiMH is not new — only in the last two years has this superior rechargeable technology been available to consumers in a standard AA and AAA size, so people can take this technology and pop it into their Discman, digital camera or other wireless personal electronics. This is the direction consumers are moving in."
Looking at battery industry direction away from rechargeables, Energizer finds the majority of Palm users still prefer standard alkaline batteries. The is one of the CE devices at which the St. Louis-based company aimed its e2 battery, said Jackie Burwitz, VP for investor relations.
"Within the last year-and-one-half, we have introduced e2, along with a full portfolio of products that allows us to meet all of consumers' needs — super premium, e2, Premium, Energizer Max, Eveready Alkaline, AA lithium for digital cameras and a full line of rechargeable batteries."
In its relaunch of the Energizer brand, the company is giving it a new look, more power and greater in-store presence. The product has been renamed Energizer Max to communicate long-lasting power, and will run up to 40 percent longer than ordinary alkaline batteries in the AA and AAA sizes in high-drain devices, according to Energizer. These two cell sizes make up almost 80 percent of all batteries sold and are used in many of the newest portable devices, the company said.
Energizer Max will be easier to find in stores, relying on the Energizer bunny to attract consumers to new merchandising showcases and new packaging. Display units will carry the message: "The power to keep you going and going." Enhanced product will make its debut this fall.
As a full-line battery supplier, Bethel, Conn.-based Duracell markets round cell NiMH batteries, but finds this segment of the market is quite small, due to consumer preference for the convenience of "always ready" primary power. Thus the company's premium Duracell Ultra with M3 technology is its best alkaline battery for today's high-drain devices.
Duracell also said it is excited about the latest addition of its Ultra line, the CR-V3 battery for digital cameras. In the past two years, 38 digital cameras designed around the CR-V3 form factor have been introduced, and these cameras offer consumers tremendous choice in battery power, the company said.
In cameras that are CR-V3 compatible, users can choose the power option that best works for them. They can choose Duracell Ultra CR-V3, the company's most powerful battery for digital cameras, AA premium Duracell Ultra with M3 technology or AA rechargeable NiMH batteries.
GE/Sanyo is launching new packaging for its CR-V3 lithium power cell for digital cameras. This special battery size doubles the capacity of standard alkalines, said the San Diego-based company. These are currently available at a $14.99 suggested retail.
GE/Sanyo also is introducing new packaging for Alkaline High Capacity batteries in AA and AAA sizes. Called Platinum Plus, the product offers 40 percent longer run-time in certain high-drain devices such as PDAs, CD players and digital cameras, said the company. New packaging includes four- and eight-packs, with suggested retails at $5.99 and $9.99 for the currently available batteries.
NABC, North American Battery Co., formerly Saft America Consumer Products, is focusing on new items that relate to its strengths as a North American manufacturer and a premier brand marketer, according to Bob Roth, director of retail sales and marketing.
This fall, San Diego-based NABC will be adding a new licensed brand to its lineup, called Bell Equipment. "This will apply to a complete line of cordless phone batteries and accessories, made available to all retailers in the United States," Roth said.
"Outside of this new brand, we are focusing on new product lines that maximize our dual U.S. and Mexico manufacturing capabilities. We are offering a number of new product lines, such as scanner battery packs, hotel lock battery packs and power tool battery packs. Each will be fully launched at the 2002 CES."
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.