Prada, Gucci…GNC? In addition to the ever-growing list of fashion and luxury brands Chinese shoppers scoop up at home and abroad, health and wellness products – particularly nutritional supplements – are becoming hot commodities as Chinese disposable incomes continue to grow. “People around me seem to be more concerned about their health than in the past,” says Wang Qi, a 32-year-old executive assistant from Beijing.
Over the past two decades, Chinese expenditures on health products grew annually at a rate between 15-30 percent, far higher than the 13 percent in developed countries over the same period. It is estimated that the sales of vitamins and dietary supplements as well as food and drug additives in China will reach $95.2 billion by 2015.
China’s growing nutrition market has attracted international supplement manufacturers, despite high thresholds to enter the market and laborious governmental approval procedures. The most recent survey conducted by the China Healthcare Association states that over the past 15 years about 644 types of nutritional supplements have been exported to China, among which 63 percent is from the US.
The Michigan-based Amway remains an industry leader. Euromonitor International proclaims the direct selling company and manufacturer of primarily health, beauty and home care products led overall dietary supplement sales in 2010 in China by holding a 16-percent market share. But as the competition heats up, it is uncertain whether that sort of lead can be maintained.
General Nutrition Centers, a Pennsylvania-based retailer and producer of health and nutritional product, is vying to catch the number one slot in China. David Zhang, CEO of GNC China, says, “More and more Chinese consumers, particularly in big cities, are looking for international leading brands that can provide trusted product quality and innovative product lines.”
The GNC products being sold in China now are manufactured in and imported from the US. We have adapted a multichannel strategy to list our products in premium supermarkets, high-class department stores, health and beauty stores as well as on e-commerce (sites),” Zhang says.
China’s new health kick is also spiking the demand for children’s nutritional supplements. Guangzhou Biostime Inc, a subsidiary of Biostime International Holdings Ltd (which is based in the United Kingdom), is a provider of premium pediatric nutrition and baby care products.
According to Euromonitor International, Biostime accounted for approximately 85.4 percent market share in retail sales of children’s probiotic supplements in China in 2009. Leo Zhu, the company’s senior sales director, says sales of probiotic supplements grow annually at about 20 percent in China. “We have been focusing on Chinese affluent mother consumers, who have bigger consumption power and are more willing to buy nutritional supplements for their children,” Zhu says.
But most industry leaders across the board acknowledge that importing products is not enough to support China’s healthcare market: it needs a stronger foundation. “Although the Chinese government has successively launched many laws and regulations to regulate China’s health food industry in recent years, compared to the market in the US or Europe, China still have a lot to improve,” Luo Yang, an expert with the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Medicine and Health Products says. “We should further standardize China’s healthcare industry, so as to make local nutritional brands more competitive in the international market.”