Selling premium batteries often requires suppliers to tap into a rich vein of psychology. The idea is that, if consumers have forked out a significant sum for a new gadget, they are also likely to be persuaded to dip deep into their pockets for the best quality batteries.

Tim Clark, marketing manager at Panasonic, believes this is helping to drive the premium end of the market: "Customers who spend a lot of money on their appliances feel that, if they are going to get top appliances, they want top batteries to go in them."

However, there is a downside to this increase in the sale of premium batteries - they also last longer in other appliances than cheaper equivalents, which delays repeat purchases.

A recent batteries market report from Mintel found that consumers were increasingly converting to longer-life products. "This is causing a fall in the replacement rate of batteries, which consequently impacts on volume sales," it says. "The industry is combating this situation by focusing on premium products - launching lithium products targeted at high-drain devices and rechargeable products including chargers."

However, Mintel warns that a large proportion of consumers remain unconcerned by batteries and getting them to engage with premium products is a challenge. "In the face of the potential loss of volume sales the industry must innovate and diversify if value is to be maintained," the report adds.

Much innovation is centring on lithium technology. Size-for-size, lithium batteries store more charge than alkaline, which currently constitute the majority of UK sales.

One company already in this sector is Energizer. According to UK marketing manager Sarah Richardson, the influx in the use of high- drain products is boosting lithium's popularity.

Energizer conducted research among passengers buying battery-powered devices at Gatwick and Manchester airports, each of whom showed a strong preference for premium batteries. "Our research clearly shows that people are prepared to pay more for better performance," she says.

Premium batteries form the bulk of all UK sales, according to TNS. Last year, they took a 55% market share, showing 7% value growth on 2004. In addition, super-premium batteries took a further 10% market share with 33% volume growth year-on-year.

Away from the high street, lithium batteries are used to power devices as diverse as heart pacemakers, electric-hybrid cars and military field communication systems, and the battery industry has been eager to harness the advances made in non-commercial fields. Experts say they also perform better at lower temperatures.

Energizer has sought to present this message with a summer-long campaign in support of its Ultimate Lithium battery, which it claims is "the world's

longest-lasting battery in hi-tech devices".

The company says its lithium product can power a digital camera for 600 photos compared with 90 when a camera is fitted with a standard alkaline battery.

"Target audiences for Ultimate Lithium have been defined as those adults who are gadget-driven," says a spokesman for the company. They regularly read men's magazines, national supplements, gadget and photography titles and are frequent internet users." n