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Focus on Batteries: Staying power

The big news in the batteries market is Varta's new on-pack claims that its cheaper AA and AAA cells last just as long as Duracell's. Independent research has found that Varta Max Tech AA alkaline lasts as long as Duracell Ultra Power; Varta High Energy AA lasts as long as Duracell Plus Power; and Varta Longlife AA lasts as long as Simply Duracell.

Varta sales director, Anthony Sewart, says the batteries have not been specifically improved so the company could make the claims before, but this is the first time an independent test house had been used to verify internal findings.

He explains: "We were confident that our AA and AAA alkaline batteries would match the performance of the comparable market-leading product, so it is reassuring that impartial testing matched our expectations. Intertek carried out tests according to International Electrochemical Commission standard procedures independently, but on behalf of Varta."

It's an interesting development for value-conscious shoppers and new packaging for the tested products communicate the claims direct to consumers. On pricing, Varta says it tries to offer recommended retail prices that are 10% cheaper than the equivalent market-leading products.

Duracell, meanwhile, is promoting the longevity of its batteries with a new campaign that focuses on its exclusive Powercheck technology.

Research by BatteryBack found that a third of batteries disposed of in the UK still contain up to 67% of their original power, which is more than enough to run medium low-drain devices such as toys, games controllers, television remote controls or alarm clocks. This means that while batteries may appear to have 'run out' in high-drain devices, such as a digital SLR camera flash unit, there will still be enough charge in them to continue to provide power to a range of devices around the home.

The Powercheck technology is available across Duracell's Ultra Power alkaline range. It gives consumers the ability to see how much power remains in their batteries, ensuring prolonged usage and reduced wastage. Brand owner P&G is encouraging consumers to use all the life left in their batteries via the strapline: 'Get the most out of your Duracell batteries with Powercheck'. This will appear on TV, radio, point of sale and in print and social media.

Leigh Tomlinson, business leader for Duracell, comments: "This new campaign will continue to boost consumer awareness of the Duracell brand and reinforce its reputation for longevity and reliability. Retailers can make the most of this opportunity by drawing further attention to their batteries fixtures in-store, as visibility can play a key role in boosting category sales. Duracell Ultra Power provides guaranteed longer lasting power in AA, AAA, C, D and 9V cells, offering an option to suit every device type. With a wide variety to choose from, retailers should ensure they are stocking the right range so that they can make the most of customer loyalty."

According to IRI/GfK data, Duracell is the number one battery brand in the UK. And nearly 90% of Duracell alkaline volume sales are from exclusive shoppers (those who will only buy Duracell) or highly loyal shoppers (those who buy Duracell more than 50% of the time).

Sales pointers

The UK battery market is in decline but that does not mean you don't need to stock batteries in your store. There is still plenty of demand out there, particularly at this time of year when more than a third of annual UK battery sales take place as shoppers stock up to power their remote controls and electronic gifts.

What is more, many batteries are sold on impulse if shoppers see them they will buy them.

Panasonic Energy sales manager UK and Ireland, Tim Clark, reckons that because of their high footfall and late opening hours, forecourts can do very well from battery sales.

He advises: "Ensure your stock meets the most frequent shopper needs alkaline batteries are the most popular type, and the most popular sizes are AA, AAA, C, D and 9V.Prompt customers to make a purchase by putting your battery selection by the till and choose a range which has pictures on-pack to show which appliances they suit best."

Most convenience stores keep their batteries for security reasons behind the till, but all the manufacturers advise retailers to try secondary sitings using things like clip strips.

Maybe you could try them in sight of the till or on the front of the counter so staff can keep an eye on them?

And although it's best to stick to the most popular cell sizes, you don't have to restrict yourself to just those.

Varta's Sewart says: "Even smaller stores should not limit their offering to the big five battery types. There is profit to be made by offering up to five of the most important button cells, including the CR2032. If a consumer remembers that they were able to buy a cell less widely available from a store, they are likely to return."

And Energizer's marketing director, Caroline Mallet, says: "We would encourage retailers to make the most of their limited space by offeringthe top one or two SKUs which are commonly used in many devices, capitalising on the strong growth within the sector (+3% Nielsen). We would suggest Energizer CR2032 or Energizer LR44/A76."

Promotional activity is rife in the battery market particularly in the grocery multiples where it's sometimes hard to find a pack without a 'plus free' offer.

Energizer's Mallet says that over the past three years there has been an unsustainable level of deep and frequent promotional activity, which is damaging category value and is conditioning consumers to only buy on promotion.

"At Energizer we have been campaigning for more responsible promotions over the past two years," she says. "As a challenger brand in the battery category, we are committed to restoring category value by working with the trade to create promotional plans which are relevant and meet shopper needs, while maintaining sustainable levels of promotional activity."

Panasonic will be offering 'extra free' packs this autumn but it is also offering consumers two free songs to download with every battery pack purchased. They can choose from a library of 450,000 songs, from artists such as Rhianna, Bon Jovi and Lana Del Rey. The activity will run on Pro Power and Evolta.

Rechargeables

At a time when consumers are watching their spending and constantly seeking out value for money, it's surprising that sales of rechargeable batteries like regular cells are in decline.

Panasonic's Clark says: "Rechargeables are getting cheaper to buy but people don't really understand them. Most people like the idea of a rechargeable but find them difficult and complicated and therefore don't engage with them. There's also a negative perception from people who tried them years ago when they weren't as good."

Varta's Sewart adds: "Currently rechargeable batteries are still struggling to break out of the niche market and make up less than 10% of the market share. This may be down to the fact that recharging batteries requires pre-planning, remembering to charge them before they are needed. Of course, they also require consumers to purchase additional equipment with which to charge them. It is perhaps easy to understand why consumers would see primary batteries as an easier, quick-fix option when given the choice. Bulk buying offers may also play a role in making primary batteries seem a more appealing option for consumers.

"Rechargeable batteries are important but stocking such items relies heavily on the size and demographics of the store, as this will determine the viability and value of stocking them."

Panasonic is attempting to help consumers understand rechargeables better with a simplified charger offer comprising an entry-level charger, a fast charger and a universal charger. Each comes with fully-charged batteries.

Energizer too is trying to simplify the shopping experience by clearly communicating the difference between its rechargeables. New packaging uses icons to show consumers the most appropriate battery for a device. And an on-pack performance grading system allows them to choose the power that fits their device usage needs.


Tough torches

Varta's Indestructible range of torches has won 'best product of the year' at the international Plus-X Awards in Cologne.

The three Indestructible torches and beam lantern received seals of approval from the Plus-X judges for their high quality, design and functionality. Built to survive a drop of up to nine metres with a water-resistant, shock-absorbent, aluminium and titanium casing, the Indestructible range has proven popular with consumers leading active lifestyles or working outdoors.

The range includes the LEDx5 Indestructible headlight, rrp 12.99; one watt LED Indestructible light, rrp 20.99; and a three watt LED Indestructible lantern, rrp 29.99

So confident is Varta about the 'indestructible' nature of its torches that consumers are currently being invited to submit videos of their own 'toughness' tests at www.built-to-survive.com. The winning video will be picked by a public vote next month, with its director receiving a cash prize of 1,250. In addition, the people behind the top 20 videos will all receive Varta Indestructible t-shirts.

The Plus-X Award is presented to manufacturers for creating high-quality products that are innovative and designed to stand the test of time. Prizes go to products that have the 'plus X' factor which possess at least one unique feature that gives them the edge over their competitors.


reatailer view

"We only stock Duracell batteries as they've got a good reputation and the margins are good. We stock a full range including the 'coin' batteries and they are all kept behind the counter.

"We do get the promotional 'plus free' packs when they are available from P&H.

"We stock torches too but separately in the store. They sell very well all year round. We don't stick to a particular brand on those I stock whatever's available and look out for offers."

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