By Nancy Meyer
NEW YORK–The market for compact fluorescent light bulbs has gotten a big boost from Wal-Mart, which is using the distinctive spiral bulb as a symbol of its commitment to the environment.
The retailer has already surpassed its goal to sell 100 million CFLs by the end of this year.
Wal-Mart embraced the CFL business as part of its green initiatives and expanded its assortment and shelf space, installed displays explaining the savings of CFLs, cut prices, and heavily promoted and advertised the category. By doing so, it reached its goal of roughly doubling sales of the CFLs to 100 million units at the end of September, a full three months ahead of schedule.
In 2006, unit sales of CFLs were an estimated 150 million. While 2007 figures won't be available until spring, industry sources said the total is likely to be double that, thanks to Wal-Mart's aggressive promotion.
Philips, the world's largest maker of the bulbs, has stated its compact fluorescent sales in North America have tripled in the past five years.
The intense sales have put pressure on bulb makers to increase supply to meet the demand and on fixture makers who are starting to feel some pressure to develop better-designed fixtures to house the bulbs.
"We love the CFL and see the power this product has to unite consumers in the struggle against climate change," said Andy Ruben, Wal-Mart vice president of strategy and sustainability, in a statement. "It makes sense for our customers because it saves them money and helps them live better."
Ruben continued, "This year's incredible sales show that our customers make good choices when presented with products that are right for their families and the environment, and recognize that massive change is possible if each person commits an act as simple as changing a light bulb."
But consumers also responded to the low price. A four-pack of Wal-Mart's Great Value private-label CFLs retails for $7.58, about half the price of brand-name CFLs, and well under its competitors. The price a year ago was about $2.40 for a CFL equivalent of a 60-watt incandescent bulb.
CFLs now account for 15 percent of Wal-Mart's light bulb sales, up from 5 percent nine months ago, it said.
Wal-Mart's success includes efforts at sister company Sam's Club, where a savings comparison calculator was put on the Web site. Almost half of Sam's Club's CFL sales this year have been to small business members, according to Greg Spragg, executive vice president of merchandising and replenishment for Sam's Club.
According to Wal-Mart, the five states with the highest CFL sales are Texas, Florida, California, Illinois and Ohio.
The cost savings and environmental benefits of Wal-Mart's initiatives alone have been significant. The retailer estimates that over the lifetime of the CFLs, these energy-saving bulbs will be equivalent to taking 700,000 cars off the road, or conserving the energy needed to power 450,000 single-family homes.
To help reduce the environmental impact of the CFLs, Wal-Mart also worked with manufacturers to lower the mercury content of the bulbs.