Driven by booming sales of high-drain digital consumer electronics hardware and the ongoing proliferation of wireless communications, the higher-end, longer-life battery business is booming.
Leading the charge into 2001 with new technology are rechargeable batteries that hold a charge longer, recharge faster, and even convert to applications requiring a different battery assortment.
Rechargeable batteries are the fastest growing segment of the battery category at retail in the United States, according to ACNielsen data. The largest retail channel, mass merchants, reported nearly a 30 percent increase in dollar sales during this past year.
Nickel-metal-hydride batteries account for about half the sales of rechargeable types, compared with 10 percent a year ago, according to ACNielsen figures. At the same time, sales of alkaline rechargeable batteries continue to grow, with nickel-cadmium types virtually dropping off the charts.
"The high-drain digital-device explosion eats batteries. Single-use alkaline can't keep up," said John Daggett, director of marketing services at Madison, Wis.-based Rayovac. "In a wireless, portable lifestyle, consumers want quick recovery for their digital cameras. They're looking for an immediate charge."
GE/Sanyo will continue to offer one of the broadest rechargeable lines at retail today, said Steve Scott, national sales manager for the San Diego-based battery maker. The company's lineup features standard Ni-Cds as the workhorse of the industry at economical price levels, plus high-capacity Ni-Cds and Ni-MH types for the high-performance categories.
In the cellular phone arena, Oklahoma City-based Jasco Products has quadrupled the number of storefronts carrying its GE-branded cordless phone batteries. This year, Jasco is projecting 100 percent growth for this battery category, paying special attention to the introduction of batteries supporting 900MHz and 2.4GHz phones, said Kent Shiplet, executive VP of sales and marketing and product development.
Following up on a two-year battery commitment to support newly released phones and offer the most comprehensive assortment in the business, Shiplet said the line is "positioned to offer maximum margin to the dealer, while also delivering excellent value to the consumer."
To assist retailers in providing a home for batteries, Jasco is offering a modular Home Battery Center display with header, aisle violator signs and battery cross-reference flip charts.
Maxell Corp. of America continues to support a strategy of being a strong branded player in all segments of the rapidly expanding battery business, including camcorder, digital photography, portable audio, PDAs, and a wide variety of products that utilize specialty batteries, in addition to alkaline batteries.
"Camcorder batteries represent one of the fastest growing and most dynamic segments of the entire battery industry," said Peter Brinkman, marketing director for the consumer products division at Fair Lawn, N.J.-based Maxell. "The trend is fueled by continued category expansion and format segmentation. The trend has also provided consumers with a broad range of format options and price ranges to choose from.
"New technologies have positively influenced the camcorder category, specifically new digital products like Digital8 and Mini DV formats. Attractive hardware pricing, combined with new technologies, translates into excitement in the category, and that means more hardware sales, thus more battery sales.
"In addition, the ability to share video content, as well as pictures, with families and friends around the country using the PC adds new excitement and sales to the camcorder business. Camcorder battery sales have no where to go but up, as well, because household penetration for camcorders is now above 40 percent."
With the need for high-output, rechargeable batteries to power high-drain devices, Maxell is stepping up its development of Ni-MH batteries. The company has increased the capacity of its Ni-MH types to 1,600 mAh from 1,400 mAh. In addition, it is introducing a new Rapid Travel Charger that will fully charge a set of batteries in four hours.
LEAP Energy and Power Corp., with its selection of LEAP batteries, will be supporting high-drain CE hardware in 2001 with new Ni-MH batteries and chargers, as well as 50 new personal electronic batteries to power cameras, organizers, PDAs and hundreds of similar products.
The Toronto-based company will introduce its "innovative" merchandising displays and "unique" cross-referencing system at retail to create higher shelf impact and make it easier for consumers to locate battery replacements. It is also introducing a line of batteries to power mobile electronics at the Consumer Electronics Show.
"The opportunities for rechargeable power are increasing at a staggering rate," said Mark R. Raudabaugh, sales and marketing VP at Gainesville, Fla.-based Millennium Rechargeable Power Systems. "We plan to focus on the launch of the Millennium product line and the establishment of the Millennium brand."
Millennium, a brand of Moltech Power Systems, offers rechargeable batteries that range in suggested retail prices from $7.49 to $12.49, chargers that range from $15.99 to $21.99, power packs for wireless phones that range from $30.99 to $54.99, and power packs for camcorders that range from $38.99 to $92.49. These will begin appearing at retail in 2001.
Tremendous market growth in key rechargeable battery and accessory categories has triggered a record launch of new brands and products this year at San Diego-based Saft America, said Bob Roth, consumer market manager for the Saft America Portable Battery Division. Saft has more than 150 offerings debuting, including more than 15 batteries just for digital camcorders.
Other Saft products include high-powered Ni-MH round cells and cordless phone replacement batteries under the new UltraLast brand; a relaunch of the Nitro Power remote-control car battery line, including a number of never-before-seen toy car accessories; and a 20 percent expansion of all Again & Again-brand batteries and accessories to better serve CE distributors.
"We expect 2001 to be a powerful year," said Marty Goldberg, president of Westlake Village, Calif.-based Lenmar. "We have positioned Lenmar to provide a full range of battery solutions to the CE dealers. We want to assist the retail stores and e-tailers to easily identify and supply the appropriate power solution for their customers."
Lenmar is offering a seamless Internet link to batterycentral.com to access the company's battery configurator. For traditional retailers, Lenmar is introducing its 20/80 inventory package, plus fulfillment opportunities for a complete category management program.
In reference to "seamlessly" linking a retailer's existing website to batterycentral.com, Goldberg said, "It's a win-win situation.Your customer is ecstatic with your service and remains your loyal customer. You create an extra sale with little or no inventory dollars. Because of our extensive database and power selection, we make a simple battery solution."
Addressing "inconvenience" as the primary user barrier to recharging batteries, Rayovac acknowledges that "today's consumers demand speed and mobility in every aspect of their lives," said the company's Daggett.
"In consumer research on battery charger attributes, quick charging speed was the most important potential benefit," he said. "A one-hour charge generates 37 times more interest than an eight-hour charge. The benefit of small size/portability was second in importance."
Looking to dramatically speed up the recharging process, Rayovac will introduce in 2001 "the first truly fast and mobile battery charger on the market," said Daggett.
Called the 1 Hour Ni-MH Charger, the unit, which should retail in the $30 range, charges up to four high-capacity Ni-MH 1,600 mAh AA batteries or four high-capacity Ni-MH 700 mAh AAA batteries in one hour. It also charges one 9V Ni-MH battery in three hours.
Targeted toward the growing consumer segment of demanding, tech-savvy users of high-drain, handheld electronic devices such as digital cameras, the Rayovac speed-charge accessory kit includes a DC adapter that fits an auto cigarette lighter. The unit will be available in the summer/fall of this year.
More powerful Ni-MH batteries-with AA capacity increasing from 1,300 mAh to 1,600 mAh and AAA capacity moving up to 700 mAh from 550 mAh-will start appearing at retail in first-quarter 2001.
GE/Sanyo, which "continues to offer inventory solutions that reduce inventory investment without sacrificing product breadth," will be introducing an Ni-MH program this year that offers a ConvertAcell packaged with AA batteries, said Scott.
"This program allows the consumer to buy AA batteries and yet convert them to applications requiring C or D batteries," he explained. "Retail outlets will be able to provide an AA, C and D SKU assortment at minimal investment. This is an exciting opportunity for the customer to try an Ni-MH rechargeable product at a low entry price point. The ConvertAcell concept will also be offered in our Ni-Cd product assortment."
GE/Sanyo, which offers an AA 1,600 mAh at retail under the GE/Sanyo brand, has also added accessories to its core battery business in order to offer retailers one-stop shopping.
Cellular batteries have expanded from 40 items to over 100, and several battery merchandising options to maximize space and develop in and out promotions include clip strip, side kicks, self shippers and quarter pallet programs.
This year, GE/Sanyo batteries will be taking on a new look, said Scott. Lithium packaging will be changing, along with the addition of two lithium SKUs-the CR-3V and CR-6V-to maintain a complete line of photo-lithium batteries.
Cordless phone batteries also will be given a new look to help consumers pick the proper battery pack for their cordless phones, and cellular packaging has also been improved.
At CES this week, Maxell will be introducing a range of new lithium batteries that support the emerging info-lithium platform.
The introduction will feature products that offer extended run times and will be added to Maxell's line of 16 lithium-ion camcorder batteries, which Brinkman said are the "most comprehensive in the business."
Each new product line introduced by Saft America at CES will have its own "first-ever" marketing campaign in 2001, said Roth, as well as product features with designs centered on distinct consumer-driven design improvements and innovations.
Saft will be the first to introduce a line of Ni-MH round cell batteries and chargers individually designed for separate product applications, he said, including digital cameras, CD players, portable stereos and PDA markets.
Saft will also introduce the first application-specific packaging to the cordless phone battery aftermarket, making it easy for consumers to find batteries that fit their cordless phones. The Nitro Power line will be unveiled with a new look and features and will include the first-ever remote-control car accessory line under the Nitro Power Superstunt brand name.
In addition, Roth said, Saft is launching an ad campaign tying its industrial strengths-such as powering the Mars Rover for NASA, commercial jet planes and electric vehicles-into its strengths as a consumer products company leveraging Saft "The Battery Company" as Saft "The Power Behind the Brands."
Lenmar has increased or added to its power products, which now include rechargeable batteries for notebook computers, cellular and cordless telephones, digital cameras, photo lithium, camcorders, PDAs, two-way radio and portable electronics, said Goldberg.
Lenmar plans to aggressively promote its NoMemPRO Ni-MH AA, AAA and 9-volt chargeable and rechargeable alkaline batteries with national advertising, consumer rebates, cross-promotions and in-store point of purchase material. At CES, Lenmar is featuring its B2B Web solution with "1,000 Hits or $500 Guarantee Promotion."