Thank’s to China’s development which results in a growing disposable income, Chinese people start to take better care of themselves. Due to an aging population, pollution concerns, and the fast pace of life, especially of people from younger generations in big cities, that don’t sleep properly and don’t have time to pursue a healthy lifestyle, the interest in health supplements is growing. In addition, the ongoing pandemic raises concerns about people’s health.
All of these factors contribute to the fast growth of China’s health supplement market, as Chinese consumers become more and more interested in vitamin and health supplements. In 2022, the market was worth 298.9 billion RMB. In this blog post, we will take a look at the health supplements market in China and see the opportunities for niche foreign brands on the market.
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China’s Health Supplement Market Overview
The health supplement market is rising and it’s mostly thanks to the young generations, that are more health-conscious than their parents and grandparents. In 2022, the health supplements market size accounts for 298.9 billion RMB, with an annual growth of 8.8%. The growth is expected to keep this pace during the forecasted period (2022-2027).
What is important to note is that the market is consistently growing, as in 2019 it recorded a record growth of almost 19%. Today, China’s vitamin and health supplements market is the biggest in the world. In 2015, the spending on vitamins and dietary supplements accounted for 109 billion RMB, so in just 7 years the numbers almost tripled, showing the great potential of the market.
Most popular types of dietary supplements
China’s dietary nutrition and health products industry has developed for nearly 40 years since the 1980s. At present, the types of health products in China mainly include:
- Dietary supplements
- Sports nutrition
- Weight management products
- Traditional nourishing products.
- The new trendy one: skincare products
In particular, products for special medical purposes, antioxidants, probiotics, sleep aid, and infant nutrition products are the fastest-growing categories in the Chinese market.
Why are health supplements sales growing so fast in the Chinese market?
Chinese people are becoming more and more aware of the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle. It’s visible in many aspects of life, and the group that drives this trend is young people, especially from first-tier cities. They start taking care of their diets, and many of them resign from eating meat, choosing healthier, plant-based options. They also sign up for fitness memberships or train in yoga at home, resulting in further growth of the sports market in China.
What is more, China is facing a problem with an aging society and the government is trying to activate the seniors, encouraging them to do sports and live healthy life. Although many of them still prefer traditional Chinese medicine over Western one, as they have been used to it all their lives, many of them are more interested in health supplements products from abroad, contributing to the growth in the health supplements market segment.
Finally, just like in other developed countries, Mainland China is also facing the problem of obesity. The Chinese government is putting many measures in place, especially since obesity is becoming a very serious problem, especially when it comes to kids. What is more, being very slim is one of the main Chinese beauty standards. Therefore, many Chinese women are buying dietary supplements that will help them lose weight.
According to a survey conducted by Rakuten Insight in 2020, around 77% of respondents living in China said they took vitamin and health supplements to strengthen their immune system. Only 7% of them took health supplements for weight loss, but this area is recording growth in recent years.
Foreign nutraceutical products are in high demand
Due to the late development of food supplements compared to Western countries, and also because of scandals that happened in the Chinese market, Chinese customers have browsing behaviors and are very wary of unknown brands and domestic food supplements. This is mainly why overseas health supplements are so popular in China and Chinese people try all their ways to procure them.
According to data from Alibaba and JD, during the past Double 11 shopping festival, food supplements are bestsellers among all imported products and six out of ten top nutraceutical brands on Tmall Global are overseas brands and on the JD platform, there are even 9 foreign brands are among the top 10 best-selling nutraceutical brands!
What’s more, overseas nutraceutical products online sales with Omega-3 from seal oil containing eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) were exceptionally well-received products in the Chinese market, and these types of health supplements are very popular in China.
Chinese e-commerce giant JD. Com announced that it has launched food supplements from more than 6,000 overseas brands on its platform in the past two years, of which two-thirds are still selling on the platforms.
Opportunities for small and niche foreign brands
China’s Millennials and Gen Z are looking for new and small brands. As of the development of the Internet and e-commerce in China, it is easier for them to know this kind of brand and product. Meanwhile, it is also a great opportunity for small brands that provide special and new products to reach their targets.
China’s health supplements market is not well-developed yet, which means there are not so many well-known international brands available on the market. It also means that Chinese consumers are not thoroughly educated enough, often facing problems with choosing the right medicaments that will fit their needs.
Foreign brands, however niche they are, that will focus on educating and providing customized dietary and nutritional supplement plans have a chance of winning this promising market, as these are the services that China’s market is lacking now.
Lemonbox Case Study:
Lemonbox managed to climb the ladder to become the market leader thanks to its personalized vitamin business model. The company realized what are the needs of Chinese customers and came up with an online questionnaire, where respondents are asked questions about their eating habits and health issues. All of this can be done in the WeChat program, and the customer is later provided with a list of recommended health supplements. Customers may then purchase “recommended” supplements and have them transported from a bonded facility.
The comprehensive retail experience and the increased buying influence of the young consumers mean that international nutraceutical brands must keep relevant with China’s quickly changing market, the world’s second-largest market, and its consumers’ new tastes and expectations.
Before selling on e-commerce platforms… this is what you need to do
Although you probably heard, that selling on e-commerce platforms in China is the best way to win the market and gain the biggest visibility, you won’t be able to sell anything or even enter those platforms without an established presence in China.
As explained earlier in this article, Chinese people have browsing behaviors, meaning that if they want to buy food supplements, they will go on the Internet to find as much information before making the decision.
If they can only find bad reviews or nothing about your brands, then they will abandon your products and look for another one. This is not cool but this is the truth! Yes, branding is everything in the Chinese market. Brands awareness and reputation building can bring in traffic and make your brand look trustworthy, which is doubly important when it comes to everything related to health.
Meet all the regulations and food safety standards
Before entering China’s health supplements market, you will need to make sure your products comply with all the country’s regulations. When it comes to health supplements in China, one thing that you need to do is complete and apply for labeling requirements. Don’t forget that you will need to translate everything into Chinese and send it to the seller’s platforms or warehouse before shipment.
According to the National Food Safety Standards, health foods correspond to food products that claim to have special health benefits while being suitable for specific groups to consume and control body function. There are two types of products; health foods with functional claims, and nutritional supplements. Nutritional supplements are mostly used to replenish nutrients such as vitamins or minerals.
How to build your brand’s reputation and promote your products online?
When you make sure your products meet the regulations and standards of National Food Safety Standards in China, you can start building your online presence on the Chinese internet. There are some best practices, that you will find below;
Branding is the key to building brand awareness and credibility
Branding is the first step of your journey in China, as Chinese people don’t buy products from brands they never heard of and anyone recommended to them. It’s especially true when it comes to health-related products, as they will want to make sure they are buying something of the best quality, from a secure source.
This is why it’s advisable to have a Chinese website hosted in China. Although the website won’t bring you any direct sales, like we are used to in the West, it’s usually the first place where customers will look for information on your vitamin supplements, just like we do. They will put your brands’ name in Baidu, the biggest search engine in China, and check what pops up.
Having a Chinese website hosted in China is also crucial in terms of Baidu SEO. Baidu favors websites hosted in China that are in its mother language, so with a website localized for the Chinese audience, you will have a higher chance of ranking on top of the search results, leaving your competitors behind.
Building good e-reputation
Apart from having a Chinese website, you can also work on your visibility in Baidu by participating in forums and other platforms that will boost your score in the search results. Chinese people still use forums, especially specific ones, that give them information on niche topics. Baidu Tieba or Zhihu are very popular sites in China.
There you can participate in discussions related to health supplements and health awareness, getting to know your potential customers on the market in China and learning about their needs. You can also start your own discussions on those forums, introducing your brand, linking your sales channels, and asking Chinese consumers their opinions on your health-related products.
Apart from that, you can also invest in good public relations and have some health magazines and other platforms write about your brand. Or, of course, invest in Paid Baidu Ads. All of these will boost your scores in Baidu SEO, multiplying your chances of attracting potential customers.
Promote your health supplements on Chinese social media platforms
Chinese people are highly connected with social media, and they rely on former users’ reviews on social media to make their purchasing decisions. With the increasing users and the giant user base of Chinese social media, more and more businesses use it as an important marketing channel and now it has developed into the most essential tool in the Chinese market.
However, for those companies who are familiar with Western social media, marketing via social networks in China may be different and more challenging, since it is entirely another social media ecosystem. In China, people use WeChat, Weibo, Xiaohongshu, etc. Moreover, in recent years, Chinese short-video social media like Douyin (TikTok in China) are trendy and are gaining a lot of attention and those social platforms have almost all transformed into social e-commerce.
WeChat is the main platform that most Chinese people use on daily basis, reaching 1.26 billion monthly users in 2022. WeChat is your go-to platform for branding and product promotion. On WeChat, you can start a brand’s official account, where you can post articles in a form of our newsletters, so your audience will know about the newest products, discounts, and so on.
Later on, you can link your Official Account with WeChat Channels, a short-videos sub-platform of WeChat. But more importantly, you can start a mini-program, where you can create a WeChat H5 brochure, that will have all your company info and an introduction to your brand and products. It’s a very convenient and shareable option, useful to promote your brand among customers and distributors. Apart from that, you can also sell your products directly in your own WeChat Store, linked to the WeChat payment option.
GMA Case Study: Vitabiotics on WeChat
Other social media platforms
Although WeChat is very useful when it comes to promoting products on the Chinese market, it’s rather a closed ecosystem. It’s good for keeping customers up to date, but when it comes to reaching out to new audiences, it’s best to use other platforms, like Weibo, Little Red Book, and Douyin.
All of these platforms have their strong sides, you can post content in different formats, collaborate with Chinese influencers and health accounts, carry live-streaming sessions, organize lucky draws and discount events, and so on.
Those platforms are especially important when it comes to health supplements, as your target market are mostly young Chinese consumers interested in dietary supplements and other health products, which means they get influenced mostly by social media.
Through community management and marketing on Chinese social media, brands can promote their awareness and get more exposure cost-efficiently. Businesses that can take this opportunity can get a lead over our competitors.
E-commerce: very important in food supplements sales
Online shopping has gradually become a routine for Chinese people. 35.3% of China’s retail sales occur online and China represents more than half of the world’s e-commerce. Being present on Chinese online marketplaces is especially crucial for dietary supplements, as most of them are bought online and the numbers will only grow in the upcoming years.
Among all the cross-border e-commerce platforms, Tmall Global has been ranked first for four consecutive years and is the most trusted by consumers. More and more consumers choose Tmall Global to buy health products.
The demand diversification is driven by Generation Z, urban blue-collar workers, and small-town middle-aged and elderly groups in China. The proportion of small and niche brands has increased significantly on these cross-border e-commerce platforms and there are exceptional opportunities for foreign small and niche nutraceutical brands.
Selling through platforms like Tmall Global can not only save brands time and money but also is a way for small companies to test the market before the physical entry if it is in the future plan. Since there are so many users on these platforms, it can help brands reach more targets.
GMA Case Study: Vitabiotics
Vitabiotics is an English brand that contacted GMA to come up with a step-by-step strategy for conquering China’s dietary supplements market. Vitabiotics focused on story-telling, presenting itself as a high-quality UK brand of dietary supplements. Although everything regarding the products is translated into Chinese, Vitabiotics still kept English names and accreditations on the packaging.
Apart from good storytelling, Vitabiotics also invested time and resources into educating people through its social media accounts. There is a lot of content associated with pregnancy and baby care in order to help first-time parents to take care of their children. It’s all a matter of delivering the right content to the right audience and engaging with your potential customers.
Vitabiotics is also a very transparent company, sharing all the details everywhere possible. Thanks to an extensive range of health supplement products, Vitabiotics could target different audiences and age groups, largening its circle of followers. What is more, the products are divided into categories on the company’s website, so all the consumer groups can easily find what they are looking for.
To sum up, Vitabiotics adapted its strategy to the needs of the market in China, and now its the biggest competitor of foreign and local brands on the market, recording steady growth, thanks to consumer awareness and trust in the brand.
Are you looking for a local partner to start selling your supplements in China?
GMA, an expert in the Chinese market and digital marketing in China since 2012, is capable to help big or small businesses with suitable strategies. Our team of experts has experience working with over 600 international brands from different industries, preparing the best strategies suitable for their brands and products.
With a passionate team having a multicultural background, including China and Europe, we are your perfect partner in your step into the Chinese market.
We offer many services, starting from market research, through web design, branding, licensing, and looking for distributors, to social media strategies, KOL marketing, offline events, and many more.
Here are some of our health supplements case studies:
Don’t hesitate to leave us a comment or contact us to schedule a free consultation, where our expert will learn about your brand and help you understand your possibilities in the dietary supplements market in China!