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Rechargeable Batteries Hot For The Holiday Season

9/30/2002 02:00:00 AM Eastern

With the huge battery end-of-year selling season about to power up, most holiday hot-button indicators tracking this vast and fragmented accessories category point toward exploding volume and profit potential for the rechargeable cell and battery charger segment.

At the same time, retailers can also expect steady growth in consumer interest concerning next-generation, long-lasting digital camera and camcorder alkaline batteries.

Energizer, typical of battery makers gearing up to meet the rechargeables demand, reports a growing number of consumers turning to this type of portable power. To this end, the company is moving ahead with what it calls the highest capacity AA nickel metal hydride (NiMH) cell in the domestic retail market.

Boasting 1,850 mAh, the AA size battery from St. Louis-based Energizer, is said to last up to 2.5 times longer per charge than ordinary alkaline cells when used in digital cameras. The batteries can be recharged up to 1,000 times, said the company. Energizer cites dramatic growth in the rechargeable category, up 49 percent, compared with a year ago, on 12 months rolling dollar sales, ending Dec. 29, 2001.

Energizer also is introducing a quick charger that powers either four AA or four AAA batteries in one hour. About the size of a PDA, with a separate corded plug, it is lightweight for ease of portability. The charger is packaged with four AA 1,850 mAh cells and has a suggested retail range of $29.99 to $34.99.

Retailers can maximize battery sales, said Energizer, with the company's new Modular Merchandising System that provides strong product visibility as well as shopping ease. The permanent display, made of modular units, comes in island and end-cap, spinner, portable and sidekick units.

The system helps shoppers "see" batteries, which reminds them of their need, said Energizer. By using category icons, it provides visual cues to shoppers, making battery locations obvious at a glance. Cell designators help consumers find the battery size they are looking for, while hard-to-find specialty batteries are also highlighted. A handy cross-reference guide is built into the graphic panels.

Pricing for rechargeable batteries also is helping to define this business. "As consumer level of awareness increases due to the increased use of digital cameras and cellular phones, they better understand the economics of rechargeable batteries as they switch from throw-away primaries," said Fred Creamer, national sales manager at GE/Sanyo.

"The prices of alkaline batteries continue to increase and the payback for rechargeable NiMH [types] is quicker," Creamer continued. "Their performance is getting closer to alkaline all the time" Capacity of NiMH cells is going up, said Creamer, with GE/Sanyo AA cells currently at 1,800 mAh. The company plans to increase this to 2,100 mAh by early 2003.

In step with this trend, GE/ Sanyo is offering a 2 Way Radio Charger for the family radio market. Armed with special packaging, the charger is made for NiMH and nickel-cadmium (NiCd) cells. It can charge up to four batteries simultaneously, and is a small, portable unit with a pop-up plug. Versatility is a key selling point, since the unit can be used at home in a wall socket with 120 volts or when traveling in a 12-volt DC vehicle accessory socket.

"High-drain requirements of the two-way radio are ideal for the extra capacity of the NiMH chemistry," Creamer said. "As consumer-use patterns with two-way radios and Nextel two-way digital cellphones continue to merge, rechargeable NiMH power sources become even more common."

For the high-drain 2 Way Radio Charger application, San Diego-based GE/Sanyo recommends NiMH batteries and offers two different packs with special packaging — two AA and two AAA. Suggested retail for the charger is $19.99, while batteries range between $6.99 and $7.99.

"The growing strong demand for rechargeable batteries, especially NiMH, is currently driving growth in the battery business," said Peter Brinkman, VP/marketing at Maxell. "The popularity of NiMH rechargeable batteries is accelerating, driven by wider acceptance of high-drain devices such as digital cameras and, especially, PDAs, which are increasing in acceptance," he continued.

Maxell's newest battery product is the P2001 Recharger/Battery Combination Pack. The smart recharger automatically detects the amount of charge required of each battery and powers it accordingly. It is capable of charging NiMH and NiCd batteries, and automatically recognizes either chemistry.

Packaged in the Fair Lawn, N.J.-based company's new and distinctive consumer-friendly packaging, the P2001 has a suggested retail of $24.99, and contains both recharger and four AA NiMH batteries.

Three of the latest product debuts at Gentec International highlight rechargeable batteries. The Markham, Ontario-based company is offering its Optex NM18AA4C Rechargeable Battery Kit, which includes a compact quick charger and four 1,850 mAh NiMH AA batteries designed for digital cameras. It also charges AAA and NiCd batteries. Suggested retail for the charge-at-home or in-your-car kit is $69.99.

Gentec's Optex NM110240 Universal Travel Charger is an ultra-compact multi-voltage quick charger, which charges one to four AA or AAA NiCd or NiMH batteries. It offers an integrated plug that folds into the charger and includes two foreign electricity adapter plugs for a suggested $59.99 retail.

Optex NM18AA4 NiMH Rechargeable Batteries are designed for use with the company's two latest chargers. Suggested retail for a four-pack of AA 1,850 mAh batteries is $29.99.

Sony Electronics is claiming a 70 percent faster in-camera charge for its NP-QM71 and NP-QM91 rechargeable batteries when used in conjunction with the company's AC-SQ95OD Charger. The lithium QM71 provides up to four hours of continuous recording time, while the QM91 goes for up to six and a half hours of continuous recording time.

These Super Quick Charge InfoLithium M Series Rechargeable Batteries have a built-in microprocessor that calculates remaining battery life in minutes and communicates with a Sony camera or camcorder. Suggested retails are $100 for the QM-71 and $150 for the QM-91.

Sony also said it is shipping a new line of high-energy NiMH rechargeable batteries and an advanced one-hour power charger to retailers. The rechargeable cells are designed to power digital cameras and other high-performance CE devices up to three times more than ordinary alkaline cells.

The compact power charger from the Park Ridge, N.J.-based Sony automatically detects the amount of charge required for each battery placed in the unit, and can fully charge up to four AA or AAA NiMH or NiCd rechargeable cells in about an hour. The lightweight device is metallic in color to go hand-in-hand with other Sony accessories. Suggested retails for these products are less than $35.

Rechargeable power in a small package has made its debut at Electric Fuel. Called the Instant Power Mini Charger — it is said to be "the world's most powerful mini charger."

The zinc-air cellphone charger works without electricity and can give up to four hours of talk time. Even if a phone is completely dead, the air-activated charger can bring it back to life, letting a consumer use it instantly, according to New York-based Electric Fuel.

Available in 2-in-1, 3-in-1 and 4-in-1 combination kits, the Power Mini allows charging on the go, in a car, at home or from a computer. Suggested retail for a charger is $9.95. Kit suggested retails are $19.95 for the 2-in-1, $29.95 for the 3-in-1 and $39.95 for the 4-in-1. Car, wall, USB adapters and replacement cartridges can be purchased individually.

The mini charger fits all Nokia cellphones when used in the United States. For Motorola A, V and T models, a square connector is needed for a fit.

Fast growth of the rechargeable battery business, however, has led to some negatives, according to Marty Goldberg, CEO at Lenmar Enterprises. "The rechargeable battery market continues to be more and more fragmented. It seems that just about every new series of digital cameras, camcorders and laptops introduced use a new battery configuration. It is becoming more challenging for retailers to manage their inventory," he said.

To offset this situation, Camarillo, Calif.-based Lenmar offers an Internet solution to help retailers to service their customers with "hard to find models," as well as assists its dealers with inventory planning and stock rotation.

Lenmar also said it has met retailer concerns for battery chargers with its Mach 1 camcorder and digital camera speed charger that includes four different adapter plates to fit 75 percent of the current selling models. New adapter plates are continuously designed to keep up with the fast-changing market.

"Years ago, there was a movement to try to get OEM device manufacturers to standardize battery packs," Goldberg continued. "The trend now is just the opposite. Other than a consensus of using lithium ion chemistry, the CE industry trend is to continue to develop new and different rechargeable packs."

Lenmar is featuring its Mach 1 Speedcharger for both NiMH and NiCd AA and AAA batteries. The powering system is said to charge 750 mAh AAA NiMH batteries in less than 35 minutes and 1,600 mAh AA NiMH cells in one hour. It is designed with four charging slots and can charge one, two, three or four AA or AAA batteries at a time. It also is able to charge AA and AAA types simultaneously. Cells can be charged at home or on the road in a plug-in cigarette lighter adapter. Suggested retail is $49.95.

Lithium batteries are looking to make inroads into the rechargeables market. New for 2002 from North American Battery Co. (NABC) is a complete line of Digital Camera Batteries and Accessories that build on the success of the Polaroid Photo Lithium battery line. San Diego-based NABC now offers more than 18 rechargeable battery packs for digital cameras under the Polaroid brand.

In addition, for the fourth quarter, NABC will be completing the launch of what it calls "the most powerful and longest lasting NiMH technology" in AA, AAA, C, D and 9V sizes — under the UltraLast and Polaroid brands, said Bob Roth, VP/ sales and marketing. With these two lines, Roth said NABC will be the single source supplier to meet 100 percent of the digital camera and electronics market power needs.

Additionally, NABC is launching a new battery match feature on its Web site, which should help users find the right battery model for their application. The easy-to-use inquiry system will be accessible to consumers and retailers, and will cover all categories, including camcorders, cordless phones, digital cameras and more.

Two ultra-high-capacity lithium-ion rechargeable batteries from Placentia, Calif.-based LeadingSpect — currently being sold through camera stores and distributors — soon will be available through traditional CE retailers. The batteries, designed primarily for a wide selection of digital cameras and camcorders, include the DV4000 and DV2000.

The DV4000 at 4,000 mAh offers over 700 recharge cycles and can be recharged in eight hours. It has over ten hours average use with digital cameras, six hours average use with camcorders and over 900 hours of standby time for cellular phones. The 8-oz. battery has a suggested $99 retail.

The DV2000, at 2,000 mAH, offers over 700 recharge cycles and can be recharged in four hours. It has over five hours average use with digital cameras, three hours average use with camcorders and over 500 hours of standby time for cellular phones. The 4.5-oz. battery has a suggested $69 retail.

If rechargeable cells are the hot trend in the battery category, alkaline batteries still is where the volume is being done. However, alkaline cells are currently "exhibiting a 'flat' sales performance," said Christine Denning, marketing communications specialist at Secaucus, N.J.-based Panasonic.

To provide consumers an incentive to buy alkaline batteries, Panasonic is recommending that retailers place bonus packs, such as the company's Buy 8 Get 4 Free AA Alkaline Batteries for Digital Electronics, on clip strips and 1/8 pallets to drive sales. "The AA alkaline size, alone, is exhibiting stability, and we highly recommend its placement at checkout and throughout the store," Denning said.

Panasonic also recommends that retailers cross-merchandise batteries with the products they power — PDAs, MP3 players, portable CD players and others. The company's wheeled delivery system contains preloaded product trays tailored to retailer's individual needs, and can be quickly and easily moved from one in-store location to another, Denning said.

Panasonic's new PowerEdge for Digital Still Cameras is an AA battery that address such consumer concerns as lack of longevity for making optimum use of digital cameras. Independent testing of these batteries powered four top digital still camera models for an average of 750 shots.

PowerEdge batteries feature Panasonic's new Breakaway Wrap, which has an inner perforated seal surrounding four batteries, that allows for ease of single battery removal while keeping the remaining batteries intact. PowerEdge is available in an AA four-pack at a suggested retail range of $4.99 to $5.99.

Another look at battery sales shows that Rayovac is "encouraged by the unit growth over the last 52 weeks (ending in May)," according to John Daggett, director of corporate communications and marketing services at the Madison, Wis.-based company. "It shows the industry is returning to its historical growth patterns of 6 to 7 percent. It shows consumer takeaway is strong and inventory pantry levels are not too high.

"Dollar sales are flat to only up 1 percent for the same 52-week period," Daggett continued. "This disconnect from unit growth is due to the heavy promotional activity that has been occurring over the year and the consumer trade-down in price as [they] are moving away from the 'so-called Ultra' brands of alkaline to standard alkaline. We anticipate promotions will be at the same levels as last Christmas season and should ease during the first quarter of 2003."

Rayovac is featuring a "new and improved, next-generation-performance" alkaline battery called Maximum Plus. Promoted as the longest-lasting Rayovac alkaline ever, with performance improvements of up to 11 percent (average over all sizes) over the current alkaline, the cell has already begun shipping. Suggested retails range from $2.99 to $3.99 for the AA four-pack and $4.99 to $5.99 for the AA eight-pack.

Along with the new alkaline, Rayovac has unveiled a whole new graphic look incorporated in the company logo, packaging, displays and Maximum Plus cells. The design features a new, high-tech, neon blue, black and silver color scheme and "racetrack" company logo. New television and print advertising, discount offers and a freestanding insert in newspapers will support the new packaging and alkaline battery.

The brand/value proposition to sales growth is an important trend driving the alkaline battery business, said Brinkman, as represented by larger pack sizes.

"Larger pack size, 20-packs and 40-packs, have proven extremely popular with consumers attracted to the combination of a brand name they trust and the tremendous value they receive on a per-battery basis when they purchase the larger packs," Brinkman continued. "With battery usage up overall, consumers are demanding brand and value."

Coinciding with the launch of its improved Advanced Performance Coppertop alkaline batteries, the Bethel, Conn.-based Duracell division of Gillette is initiating an ad campaign that supports the overall Duracell brand.

However, in a shift from its traditional performance-based battery advertising, Duracell has unveiled a new, "emotional" platform that leverages battery trust as a powerful equity of the Duracell brand.

Three new television spots began to air earlier this month in North America, including ads on a variety of prime-time programs and season premieres.

Called the Trusted Everywhere campaign, the three spots — Power of Light, Earth and Space and Winning — are constructed as a comparison of two different, yet parallel, uses of batteries in electronic devices. Whether an everyday or critical situation, Duracell batteries are deemed the trusted source of power, elevating the importance of the battery purchase decision and providing consumers new reasons to prefer the Copper and Black brand.

In the cordless phone battery segment, Jasco Products is working to eliminate what it considers the most confusing aspect of this battery for retailers and consumers — identifying the correct cell for the user's phone model.

"Retailers suffer from increased broken packages and returns, while consumers leave the store in frustration," said Rick Weber, senior product manager, "The best solution is having up-to-date cross-reference information.

"Jasco's cross-reference is the most comprehensive and current in the marketplace," Weber said about the supplier's telephone battery line. Cross-reference information, from the Oklahoma City-based company, is available both in a point-of-purchase format and on the back of the battery package.

"Cordless phone batteries represent an increased percentage of sales and profits within telephone accessory assortments," said Weber, "and thus the key is to get the right battery in the hands of consumers the first time, without the confusion factor."

Other Jasco phone battery packaging solutions include blisters sealed between two cards for increased security, close-up photos of plug style and bold call-outs of primary phone brands.

Jasco is featuring its TL96154 cordless phone battery — a 3.6-volt, 600 mAh cell for a suggested $9.99, which fits Panasonic, Sony, Cobra and Uniden phones.

The No. 1 cordless phone battery goal at Gemini Industries is to simplify the consumer shopping and selection process, which primarily is accomplished through the company's product wrap.

For one, packaging offers a clear visual of the item. For another, an "exclusive" Plug Matching System allows a consumer to plug a battery into a punch out on the package, which verifies the plug type and polarity match without opening the package. Packages offer an actual-size color photo of the plug and the polarity type, while call-outs tell consumers what brand and battery it replaces. A cross-reference chart is on the package.

Gemini, which also offers a variety of point-of-purchase and merchandising programs designed to simplify the consumer battery selection process on an unassisted sales floor, has added three rechargeable cordless phone batteries to its Southwest Bell-brand battery selection. The company's total 24-unit battery lineup, ranges from $7.99 to $19.99 suggested retail.

New from Clifton, N.J.-based Gemini is the S60531, a 3.6 volt 400 mAh battery designed to fit Vtech phones, at a suggested $9.99 retail. The S60532 is a 3.6-volt 750 mAh battery for GE 2.4 Ghz phones, at a suggested $15.49 retail.

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