The UK is now the working from home capital of Europe, according to Ifo Institute research released in the summer. It found Brits average 1.5 days a week in their home offices.
That’s potentially great news for the batteries category. “This has an impact in the number of batteries we consume in relatively high-drain devices, like our home office equipment,” says Sarah Chapman, Duracell associate category director UK & Ireland.
But the shift in working patterns isn’t yet reflected in overall battery sales figures, since “the UK has taken longer than the rest of Europe to find our new normal post-Covid, as we find the balance between remote and office working”, Chapman adds.
For now, says NIQ senior client analyst Ryan Wells, “consumers are buying less batteries during their shop compared to last year”. Volumes are down 4.5%.
Despite that drop, the category maintained overall value thanks to price inflation of 4.6% per pack.
For brands, the story was less powerful. Their batteries saw a volume decline of 8.1% and a value loss of 0.9%. The whole top 10 sold fewer packs, while only one – Energizer – added value. For some, like Panasonic and Excelltec, value fell by more than a fifth.
The UK’s leading battery brand
In the longer term, batteries’ performance could go either way. The current home-working average is behind employees’ desire for dodging the office. They’d rather spend half the working week – 2.3 days – at home, according to Ifo. That would likely demand more battery power.
At the same time, however, nearly two-thirds of “steadfast” CEOs anticipate a “full return to the office” is only three years away, a KPMG global survey found earlier this year.
For now, though, the real reason for brands’ struggles is not commuters but the high cost-of living, which is driving trading down to own label. Own label has seen value growth of more than 10.8% on a 10.7% rise in units. It’s little wonder: at £3.03 per pack on average, private label batteries are 60% cheaper than the category average.
“The strong performance would indicate shoppers are switching to own-label products in categories like batteries that are discretionary,” Wells says. “For a category like batteries, price will remain key due to consumers managing their wallets.”
For brands, success will come for those able to offer a keen price point or “communicate a stronger longer-lasting battery”, Wells adds. “As Duracell and Energizer dominate the battery category, they are losing unit share to private label. So, those brands need to strategise to win versus private label,” he says.
The major names are hoping their sterling reputations will help them weather the threat of own label. Duracell is the UK’s third most popular consumer electronics brand, according to YouGov (after Samsung and Sony). Panasonic is sixth and Energizer 14th, ahead of Intel and Bose.
“Duracell has the strongest history in the category, being the number one brand for many years,” says Chapman. “We have done so by continuing to build on the trust our consumers have given us over the years by ensuring our products are the best in the market.
“There will always be cheaper products on the market, but Duracell prides itself on bringing the best quality and relevant innovation to the market.”
The quality of branded batteries versus own label
The quality is not insignificant. The Duracell Optimum range– added in July 2021 – boasts an “additional active secret ingredient” that means higher running voltage. The brand’s packaging is 100% recyclable and it’s the only manufacturer to have child safety features on lithium coin cells, in the form of a coating of Bitrex, “the world’s most bitter substance”.
“These are just a couple of examples of our unique points of difference that set Duracell apart from our competitors, and our consumers understand that, which is why our brand equity remains almost twice that of our nearest competitor,” Chapman says.
Brands without Duracell’s heft are looking to make pricing more competitive. Take JCB, distributed by Supreme, which also handles the likes of Panasonic.
“JCB batteries are a premium quality product featuring a major international brand, and Supreme offers customers JCB premium quality batteries at a very close price to private label alternatives,” claims the company.
Price is also “in heavy decline for Panasonic”, by 13.1%, it adds.
The strategy is yet to take effect. Wells notes JCB and Panasonic have shed units by 16.6% and 10.7% respectively, “ahead of the category”.
Face off: Top Products Survey 2023 pits brands vs own-label
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Batteries 2023: No boost yet from home working shift