When describing sales growth for single-use, 35-millimeter cameras in the United States, one should point and shoot skyward. `` `Spectacular' would be a suitable word,'' said Harold Martin, editor of the New York-based Wolfman Report, which provides an annual statistical overview of the U.S. photographic and imaging industry.
Sales of these plastics-intensive cameras have more than quadrupled since 1990, and the trend line for North America is expected to continue sharply upward. Estimates for 1994 put U.S. sales at about 41 million units, up 27 percent over 1993, according to the Photo Marketing Association in Jackson, Mich. PMA predicts U.S. unit sales this year ``will soar past 50 million.''
Yet, Martin noted, single-use cameras in 1994 accounted for only about 5 percent of total rolls of 35mm film sold in the United States. The photo industry counts single-use cameras film sales, not camera sales.
The market's major players are Eastman Kodak Co. of Rochester, N.Y., and Fuji Photo Film U.S.A. Inc. of Elmsford, N.Y., whose Japanese parent launched the single-use concept in Japan in 1986. Those two firms control roughly 89 percent of the U.S. single-use camera market, according to industry data provided by Fuji.
Kodak's Precision Plastics division hitched its future on these recyclable cameras a few years ago, and the strong demand continues to fuel growth at its 96-press injection molding operation in Rochester, said division manager George Fellows.
``They were the ones that pretty much saved us,'' said Fellows of the company's range of single-use cameras.
The Fuji-provided industry data shows Kodak single-use cameras are making inroads into the Japanese market - albeit from a small base. It indicates Kodak shipments to Japan last year posted an unspecified double-digit percentage gain, to more than 2.4 million units.
At the same time, Japanese consumers' appetites for single-use cameras finally cooled last year, with unit demand slipping 0.8 percent to 74.2 million.
Kodak last month officially rolled out in the United States its latest model, the FunSaver Pocket, which it has been selling in Japan since the beginning of the year, Fellows said. The FunSaver Pocket will look more like a ``normal'' 35mm camera than some of the earlier single-use models, which resembled small cardboard boxes with view-finders.
The 27-exposure FunSaver Pocket, which has a four-color polystyrene label wrapping around part of the black PS camera body, offers one model with a built-in flash and another, ``daylight'' model with no flash. The new cameras cost about $12-$14.
Though Kodak experienced some early fire from environmentalists for offering a disposable camera, the company is quick to stress that all its cameras are recycled.
Users must send in the entire camera to get their film developed. Kodak then pays a nominal fee to photo developers for their camera carcasses, which are disassembled by workers at a Rochester-area sheltered workshop. Fellows said Kodak reclaims and reuses more than 2 million pounds a year of clean PS regrind material that it gaththrough this process.