By Doug Widney
On Friday, November 2, Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) and Cree (NASDAQ:CREE) announced the Insignia family, a pair of dimmable Edison A-19 LED bulbs, at the 40-watt and 60-watt incandescent replacement points. The bulbs will have immediate and exclusive availability at over 1,000 Best Buy stores.
Edison replacement LED announcements are dime-a-dozen these days -- too numerous to list here. However, the present announcement represents transitions by a pair of major holdouts.
Standout LED device/chip maker Cree has never shipped an Edison replacement bulb. Cree, like many of its competitors, aggressively moved into lighting fixtures in the last 18 months, even going so far as to acquire Ruud Lighting. But the Durham, NC company has concentrated on a variety of downlight markets. Nationwide electronics retailer Best Buy has never sold an LED bulb or fixture in its brick-and-mortar stores, although OEM LED lights are available in its online store.
Performance and pricing are fairly aggressive, at 450 lumens/9 watts/$13.99 for the 40-watt replacement, and 800 lumens/13 watts/$16.99 for the 60-watt replacement.
The Insignia bulb has a novel mechanical design. It is shaped like the original Edison bulb from top to bottom, with long, discretely shallow, clumps of side fins running right up through the light emitting zones. Transparent slots between the fins emit light. According to Cree Product Marketing Manager Paul Scheidt, this allows the bulb to radiate in all directions almost as well as an incandescent. “We didn’t want yet another bulb that throws most of its light upwards,” he stated, adding, “We also wanted something that looked and handled more like the traditional light bulb, rather than a squashed pumpkin or necklace of fins.”
Cree is supplying “state-of-the-art” LEDs, according to Mr. Scheidt. This probably implies a good Color Rendering Index (CRI), among other things. However, the design and manufacturing contribution of the company is a little unclear. The Insignia bulb is stated to have been designed “in partnership with Twin Cities [Minneapolis-St. Paul -- Ed.] inventor, Dave Carrol.”
While a late entry in a crowded field, the Insignia boasts intriguing design, impeccable LED credentials, and a major sales channel. A Cree-Best Buy pairing could be a significant force if it extends to other products over time.
And Cree has proven to be a player not to dismiss. In the last year, the company has shown up naysayers with aggressively cost-reduced LED announcements such as the XMP family. In early 2012, short-sellers of the stock were pummeled with a rise from the low-$20s range to the mid-$30s. The stock has gyrated recently, but in the last week, has climbed rapidly back toward historical highs.