Are you a LOHAS consumer? No idea what I am talking about? LOHAS stands for Lifestyle Of Health And Sustainability. This is the acronym that marketing people have come up with to describe environmentally aware and safety conscious people, or green consumers in other words. This isn’t obscure jargon. There is a Wikipedia page devoted to explaining it, and you can go to conferences to learn about marketing to this group of people. If you are sufficiently interested you can, after paying a suitable fee, sign up to a database of LOHAS consumer trends. They have even worked out how many there are. The estimate is 16% of US consumers, i.e., around 40 million, with a similar proportion in Western Europe. By my calculation that puts the UK LOHAS population in the region of 7.5 million.
What marks these people out as a separate group? This is where it gets a big vague. We know exactly how many of them there are, but we aren’t so sure about what they are like. The marketers tend to define them in terms of the products they buy. So for example they drive hybrid cars, eat organic food and might drink Fair Trade coffee. Another way to look at people is to create a persona that typifies a particular market segment. So a LOHAS persona would be someone who is a bit spiritual, community minded with an enquiring mind. He or she sounds quite nice don’t they.
Of course any one LOHAS consumer doesn’t have to consume the whole range of products and attitudes associated with them. There isn’t any particular defining feature in the way there is of say teenagers or home owners. But I think we can sort of imagine them and perhaps assign some of our friends and associates to the LOHAS classification.
So why go to all the trouble of studying and analysing these people’s attitudes and consumption patterns? The answer is of course, to make money. Imagine you are sitting across the table with the buyer for a huge supermarket. How do you get him or her to put your stuff on their already groaning shelves? Well one way is to say that you have a product that has a special appeal to a particular group of people. You have to admit that a Powerpoint presentation full of numbers and bullet points can be very impressive. So give your product some kind of green story, talk about the growth of the LOHAS consumer and you are on your way to making a sale. And if you are talking to Tescos or Sainsburys – it could be a big one.
Of course on one level this is just how things are supposed to work. Marketers should be finding out what people want and giving it to them. That is the free market in action and most of us are quite happy to buy into it (literally) most of the time rewarding the people who satisfy our desires most fully. But I do wonder if the marketers have got this particular market analysis right. 16% is one in eight people. That seems like one heck of a lot of greenies. Can that be right?
There certainly are a lot of green blogs out there, and plenty of people talking about green issues. But how many people actually follow this through to making it a lifestyle? I have a feeling it is a lot fewer than the marketing people are assuming. As is often the case with market research, it depends a lot on how you phrase the question. Do you want natural organic food free of chemical additives? Yes that sounds nice. Are you willing to pay a premium for it? I suppose so, within reason. Do you want to only buy environmentally products even though they cost more than conventional products and seem to be exactly the same when you get them out of the eco friendly packaging? Er, hang on a minute….
But my misgivings haven’t stopped brands in a number of industries embracing the LOHAS consumer in a big way, and a lot of personal care brands have been making efforts to court them. And there have been new brands created specifically with these people in mind.
One personal care brand that looks very much like it has been designed to appeal to the LOHAS demographic is Yes to Carrots. Let’s have at their website. They say yes to quite a wide range of wholesome things. These include health, happiness and leaving cute fluffy things in the forest where they belong. (I have put a link at the bottom in case you think I am making this up.)
It has taken it a while to get distribution and is now fairly widely available, though I haven’t seen it in Tescos or Sainsburys yet. It has made a bit of impact on the beauty bloggers I read. Reviews seem to be mixed but generally favourable. This is pretty much what I’d expect. My personal opinion of the products I have tried is that they are not bad, but nothing out of the ordinary.
But when you consider the large numbers of launches into the personal care product market every month, you have to consider Yes to Carrots to be a success simply for getting noticed. Whether this will develop into long term success we will have to wait to see.
But basically this brand has got where it is today by embracing the LOHAS consumer. Or to be more precise by assuring people in the trade that they embrace the LOHAS consumer. And to be really precise, pitching to supermarket buyers that their product will appeal to the LOHAS consumer.
So what is people’s actual experience of green brands? I have a feeling that they are not going to find them to be that different to mainstream ones. And there are relatively few claims that can be made by green brands that the mainstream ones can’t make just as easily. It isn’t hard to say yes to happiness for instance. And at no stage when you are working on the development or manufacture of say, a moisturising cream is it necessary to go into a wood and drag a large fluffy animal out of it.
I suspect that what we will see next from the natural product sector is a lot of emphasis on accreditation to standards as a way of differentiating themselves. This has worked well for organic food from the producers’ point of view – though the premium for organic food has been eroded steadily. The trouble is that when you are talking about fresh produce the organic designation is easy to understand. The farmer hasn’t used pesticides or fertiliser. Even with organic food, as soon as you start applying it to processed foods like coffee or chocolate you start getting into philosophical and practical problems. Applying it to personal care products is even tougher on your logic cells- I speak from experience.
So let me summarise. This is how so many natural products have ended up on the shelves of your supermarket. Marketeers saw a trend and spotted an opportunity. Having identified that trend, they then exaggerated it to make it appeal to buyers in the supermarkets. The product development people came up with new brands to fit the niche.
I assume that the LOHAS consumers are happy. If I can find one I will ask them. I imagine the shops are too. The margins on green products are higher after all. I wonder if many other people are?