The health supplement market in China

The boom of the wellness market has spurred Chinese consumers’ pursuit of a healthy lifestyle.

The quest for self-improvement paired with voracious consumer demand has driven growth and key market trends. At present, the global wellness market - an umbrella term for everything from wellness tourism, fitness, beauty and anti-aging, to vitamins and minerals, health supplements and other preventive medicines - is valued at a whopping $4.2 trillion.

In China, the health and wellness market was worth over an estimated $14.5 billion in 2017 and is predicted to reach $26.5 billion by 2020, one of the top 5 global markets for health supplements. The health supplement 保健品 sector dominates the wellness industry and stands out as one of the most highly competitive sectors, catapulting market growth in China. Vitamins and supplements are the perfect antidote to the modern consumers fast paced, demanding lifestyle, which has more and more Chinese consumers are reaching for the bottle.

Mind and body: China’s place in the global wellness market

China has just surpassed the USA as the largest market for health supplements, which spells a major opportunity for curious brands. A growing consciousness among Chinese consumers for healthy living and maintaining their overall well-being has also contributed to robust sales of fitness gear, gym memberships and organic food alongside supplements.

Demand for health supplements and vitamins has surged across ecommerce platforms
Demand for health supplements and vitamins has surged across ecommerce platforms

By and large, Chinese consumers still tend to opt for foreign brands when it comes to their chosen supplements, as they are generally viewed as the more reliable option in comparison to domestic products following China’s string of food-related national scandals. The most significant demand is for Australian and American, and Japanese enzyme supplements 日本酵素 ‘ribenjiaosu‘ that are popular amongst millennials and female consumers. Foreign brands such as Blackmore’s and Swisse have responded to the demand from China to include specific ingredients, branding and packaging to better suit the Chinese market. On top of this, in 2016 Swisse was bought by Chinese baby formula brand Biostime and can now be purchased in their brick and mortar stores which speaks to the sheer demand in this sector.

The age distribution of health products consumers in China from 2017, including vitamins, minerals, health supplements, and diet pills
The age distribution of health products consumers in China from 2017, including vitamins, minerals, health supplements, and diet pills

Some of the most popular supplements amongst Chinese consumers range from collagen, grape seed extract and whey powder to fish liver oil, and it’s normal for consumers to take a cocktail of pills each day for an all round health boost. The allure of clearer skin, weight loss, better bone density and improved overall wellbeing in a convenient pill form, ties into a pervasive mentality amongst consumers of a preventive ‘start while you’re young’ process. The growth of China’s middle class, she-economy and millennial consumers too have driven widespread growth in almost all industries, and are a crucial demographic within the Chinese audience.

Swallowing the pill: opportunities for foreign brands

Consumers are buying into a lifestyle and are therefore looking for brands and products that speak to their interests and demands which is a huge opportunity for brands. In the UK, Chinese consumers favour Holland and Barrett as their source for products not yet available in China. Identifying where the demand is coming from and how your brand can meet it is the first step.

It’s worth noting that in China that within the supplements market, there is demand across all ages. 脑白金 ‘naobaijin’, for instance, are supplements that are popular for the older generation but some younger consumers are starting to take them as preventive supplements. As well as this, identifying other niche areas such as sports nutrition and pregnancy wellbeing where domestic brands fail to deliver is an important opportunity for foreign brands. The growth of cross-border ecommerce has driven demand for health supplements and created a culture of ‘see now buy now’ convenience. For consumers who enjoy trying different types of supplements before deciding on their favourite ones, this is an ideal way to them to experiment and discover new brands, use peer reviews and share their experiences with others across social media.

When it comes to marketing campaigns, concept stores have taken off in the US for supplement stores and are a unique way to branch out into omnichannel marketing. These and pop-up stores has been popular in China in the past as a way of merging online and offline shopping experiences, and capturing the attention of consumers.

The overall purchasing power of Chinese consumers and potential for growth makes this an important opportunity for brands. Additionally, recent changes to cross-border ecommerce laws earlier in 2019 have lowered the barriers to entry. Furthermore, in 2016 the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) approved nearly 17,000 health food products, most of which were domestic but around 751 that were imported goods, which spells good news for foreign companies.

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