By Lorrie Baumann
Around 52 million American consumers are people that market researcher Maryellen Molyneaux says are among those motivated by health and sustainability. This population, which she calls LOHAS consumers, is particularly important to retailers because they’re well-educated, they’re well-off, and they tend to put their money where their values are.
To understand this better, let’s think first about what market researchers actually do for us. If you picture your municipal zoo, but then imagine that the various enclosures are populated with human consumers rather than other kinds of exotic animals, the market researchers are like tour guides. When you come into the zoo as an interested but casual observer, these tour guides meet you at the gate and explore the zoo with you. Many of today’s market researchers would draw your attention to enclosures with signs that label them as creatures like “Baby Boomers” or “Millennials.” They’ll say things that sound like this: “Notice that the Millennials are young adults. You’ll see that some of them are carrying their young but others haven’t yet begun to reproduce. Don’t they all look happy accessing the internet with their smart phones! Now over here in the next enclosure, you’ll see the GenXers, and you’ll notice that they’re about to enter what we think of as middle age, which means that they’re thinking more about their health. Look at them wandering around the health and beauty aisle that we’ve set up inside their enclosure to help them feel that they’re in familiar surroundings.”
If you should happen to draw Molyneaux as your tour guide, though, she’ll draw your attention to subgroups of creatures that she sees within each of these generational enclosures, and what she’ll point out is that in each of the various enclosures, there’s a group of people who just seem a little cooler than the rest. It’s that coolness that draws her interest, and she can see it being acted out when they spend their money.
She’s especially interested in watching these particular creatures make their purchasing decisions because, when the other creatures in their enclosure see what these cool creatures are buying, they start wanting to buy those things too. This means that what these cool creatures are buying is about to become a trend.
Molyneaux calls these cool creatures LOHAS. They’re the market segment that, irrespective of the generation in which they’re found, are greatly motivated by their concerns for health and environmental sustainability. “When you think about conscious consumption, LOHAS consumers lead the pack and will continue to do so. They’re the ones who buy with their values,” Molyneaux said. “Not only do they buy with their values, but they become brand champions.”
When she’s not acting as our tour guide in our imaginary zoo, Molyneaux is the President and Managing Partner of the Natural Marketing Institute. Her market consulting company has been advising businesses about how to leverage information about consumers interested in health, wellness and sustainability since 1990, and she’s been collecting proprietary trend data since 1999.
LOHAS consumers now comprise 22 percent of all American consumers, and where they lead, others tend to follow. “Adoptions of attitudes and behaviors come first to LOHAS, but then their attitudes are flowing into the mainstream groups,” Molyneaux said. “To be able to understand these consumers is important…. These are the consumers that set the bar.”
LOHAS consumers have education and more money than other market segments, and in general, they favor the organic label. While more than 60 percent of American consumers have used an organic product in the last year, LOHAS consumers use more organic than anyone else. Two thirds of them believe that organic foods are safer to eat, and 71 percent of them believe they’re safer for the environment. That compares to 63 percent of all organic users who believe that organic foods are safer to eat and 64 percent of all organic users who believe that organic foods are safer for the environment. Three-fourths (76 percent) of LOHAS consumers believe that it’s important that their store carry food grown on farms that practice sustainable agriculture, compared to half of the general population who share that belief.
LOHAS consumers are growing in their perceptions that organic foods and beverages are safer to eat, more nutritious, fresher and better-tasting than conventional foods and beverages. In the decade between 2006 and 2015, the number of general population consumers who believed that organic food is safer to eat grew from 41 percent to 50 percent, and the number who said that organic food is more nutritious grew from 35 percent to 45 percent. Similar gains were observed on the questions of freshness and taste.
LOHAS consumers are more likely than the general population to prefer vegetarian meals. While 30 percent of the general population is trying to cut down on meat consumption, 40 percent of LOHAS consumers are doing that. “They’re very into protein sources and the effect of protein sources on sustainability, including the sustainability of agriculture,” Molyneaux said. We see the general population beginning to follow that trend: 41 percent of general population consumers now say they want more plant-based protein in their diets, and one out of five general population consumers say they’re consuming more plant-based protein than they did a year ago.
The LOHAS consumers are also thinking about how their preferences for products made without toxins or artificial ingredients can apply to more than just food, and they’re driving demand for personal care products and cleaning products. They’re already requiring that manufacturers meet their demands for transparency around the issues of health and sustainability. “They don’t expect perfection. They expect progress. You can be transparent about the progress you’re making, what you’re trying to accomplish, what the next thing is,” Molyneaux said. “That goes from operating your store in a more sustainable manner to conserving waste to serving social needs. There are so many platforms that can be address and that should be addressed, using these consumers as your springboard.”