Q: What is LOHAS and what are the organization’s goals?
A: LOHAS stands for lifestyles of health and sustainability. The primary goal of the organization is to inform business owners and help them better understand the LOHAS consumer, who comprises about 13 percent to 19 percent of the population. LOHAS applies to early adopters, the educators and the ones who really trend early in green initiatives. We also identify the market that caters to these customers, which is about $290 billion annually in size. That includes the natural foods and products industry, but also things like eco-tourism and green building.
Q: How can natural foods retailers support the LOHAS movement?
A: I’d like to see retailers engage mainstream more. How can they open themselves up to the larger consumer world? I think when you believe in an idea, it’s very easy to set up your environment as you are. But being aware of what other people’s environments are so that they will be receptive to yours is an art in itself. [Natural foods] retailers must stop preaching to the choir. It’s time to get out of the church and take the message to the masses because that’s where it’s needed. It’s the conventional consumer that’s dealing with obesity and other health issues. They’re the ones who are dying and don’t know how to fix it. The resources are right under their noses, but we have to meet them halfway.
Q: What can retailers do to better serve the LOHAS consumer?
A: LOHAS consumers are always going to be dedicated. They’re the loyalists. They’ll be retailers’ best friends but they’ll also be your worst enemy if you piss them off. They’re the ones who are on the cutting edge. They’re the ones who educate others, so retailers really need to pay attention to them and be aware of who they are and their touch points.
Q: Is this population growing?
A: In the U.S., there’s a lot of awareness via the Internet, but internationally the movement gets much more attention. These ideas are huge in Asia. Here, the term LOHAS is used much more as a way for businesses to identify the target consumer. In Asia, LOHAS is understood as a brand. Here, if you ask someone if they’re a LOHAS consumer, they likely won’t have any idea of what you’re talking about. In Japan, if you say “are you LOHAS?” people pick right up on it. There are LOHAS magazines, LOHAS department stores. There’s a LOHAS park in Hong Kong. My hope is that the awareness will circulate back this way. We introduced these ideas to Asia back in 2004.
Q: Why is Asia more LOHAS conscious, considering the idea originated here?
A: My theory is that Asians—young Asians in particular—are fascinated with Western culture. LOHAS embodies Asian traditional values in a Western package. LOHAS means being involved in nature, being respectful—whether it’s Shintoism, Zen meditation, herbal remedies, eating natural or being one with the land. Have you ever seen those Asian paintings that have really big, billowy clouds and then maybe a little, tiny house in the foreground? It’s that idea that nature’s really big and you’re just a little speck in the vast picture of things. There’s this natural connection with the earth and these beliefs that are inherent in Asian culture.