Natural Foods Merchandiser

New report says natural marketplace remains strong

A recent Natural Marketing Institute report, tracking the 2008 Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) marketplace, products and behaviors, said consumers remain very enthusiastic about sustainable lifestyles and products despite the economic downturn.

Most LOHAS products jumped to their highest usage levels ever recorded by NMI and consumers are discovering their “green stride.”

Alex Beamer, president of Salem, Ore.-based LifeSource Natural Foods, said his business has leveled off in recent years, but it is at the highest level it has been in 15 years. He said his business continues to remain strong because customers still believe in LOHAS products.

“These products align with their core values,” Beamer said.

Last October, Americans faced the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, putting environmental, social and health issues on the collective back burner. However, these issues never left consumer consciousness, according to the NMI report.

“Consumers’ emotions have shifted wildly from fear and anxiety to hope for a brighter future,” the NMI report says.

Corporate responsibility campaigns have become imperative in finding and retaining LOHAS consumers when financial belts keep tightening. For example, Sun Chips installed solar power in one of its manufacturing plants and is now claiming, “Sun Chips are made with the help of the sun.”

Proctor and Gamble launched a new corporate social responsibility campaign in 2008, in which it donated the same product purchased to communities of need in Africa. So for each product a consumer purchased the same product was donated to someone in Africa.

Beamer said he has launched numerous sustainability projects including solar panels and hired a sustainability director. He does market many of his sustainability efforts. A computer tracks the store’s energy usage and solar output, but Beamer said he does not market them for financial gain.

“I don’t advertise my solar panels with some idea that customers will shop here,” said Beamer. “I do it with the hope customers will install solar panels on their own homes.”

Consumer’s corporate trust is growing because of corporate socially responsible campaigns, according to NMI. But the market research group says a large gap remains between consumer expectations and CSR reality.

The report also says a huge opportunity exists for companies to improve their relevance and inspiration in their CSR campaigns and says that most campaigns are far-removed from consumers’ day-to-day lives. Understanding your target consumers’ social, environmental and health concerns related to LOHAS and mainstream products is the magical marketing mix that makes for a successful LOHAS product, according to the report.

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