How China’s young consumers buy their way into longevity and health
An analysis of how new generation of consumers in China has reshaped the nutritional supplement market
Datapoints covered in this issue:
China’s consumption of health supplement: trends, market leaders, and competitive landscape
Olly’s localization strategy
Recent innovation in personal care products
The concept of "养生" (yǎng shēng), which roughly translates to "nourishing life" or "health preservation," has a long history in China. It refers to a holistic approach to maintaining health and longevity through various practices such as diet, exercise, acupuncture, meditation, and herbal medicine.
In the modern era, the concept of "养生" has evolved in response to changing social and economic conditions. Many people are now turning to it as a way to combat the stress and health issues associated with modern life. The concept of "养生" in China is evolving through increased global connection and new health trends. Although acupuncture and herbal medicine are still popular, Western-style fitness and nutrition regimens are also gaining traction.
Let's explore how the new generation of consumers in China has reshaped the nutritional supplement market, and how the concept of "health preservation" has evolved in this new era.
Young consumers demand health preservation, but they also want fast and efficient solutions
The traditional Chinese concept of "health preservation" is closely tied to Taoist philosophy and the idea of balancing Yin and Yang energies. Traditional practices, such as Qigong, Tai Chi, and nutraceuticals (food prepared with specific medical benefits to address health concerns), generally require time and patience to achieve physical and mental wellness.
Unlike their parents or grandparents' generation, "health preservation" for young consumers doesn't mean slow-paced practices like doing Tai Chi or taking time to prepare nutritious meals. Instead, they demand faster and more efficient health improvement solutions that can be squeezed into their busy schedules. The fast-paced work environment has led to the development of various "fast-food" style supplements. These are pre-prepared instant products that allegedly provide the same nutritious benefits as traditional nutrient-rich or medicinally active foods in Chinese traditional practice, but do not require lengthy cooking and preparation times.
Among them, the collagen birds nests has become the most popular product in recent months. Bird's nests are a delicacy made from the saliva of swiftlets. Sold at a high price point, bird nests are sometimes called “the caviar of the East”. They are enriched with collagen, a protein that enhances skin, bone, and joint health, making them more appealing to health-conscious consumers.
Traditionally, it takes hours to process and stew bird saliva into a gelatinous texture, which is later used in soups or desserts. However, merchants now offer pre-prepared instant bird nest soup products that are ready to eat, which have soon become the best-selling items on e-commerce channels. In March, the collagen bird nest category was the fastest growing category under the nutritional supplement department, with a year-on-year sales growth of over 530% through major online channels.
Pinpointing health concerns: the growing consumption of diverse and specialized health supplements
Many Chinese people born in the 1990s share memories of taking mineral nutritional supplements during their childhood. Mineral supplements, particularly calcium, were once the go-to supplements for children and the elderly. The Chinese Ministry of Health heavily promoted the benefits of calcium supplements and the risks of lacking calcium in typical Chinese diets, which boosted citizens' willingness to consume mineral supplements.
However, the trend has been evolving over the years among the younger generation. According to BigOne Lab's data, the nutritional supplements market was heavily concentrated in mineral supplements in 2019. Of the online sales, 25% went into mineral supplements, including calcium, selenium, iron, zinc, and others. The overall market for nutritional supplements has grown 4.5 times through online channels since 2019. However, the share of mineral supplements has decreased from 25% to a mere 2% by 2023.
In 2023, the health supplement market has become much more diverse. The demand for specialized products that address specific health needs has led to a booming and diverse market. In the first quarter of 2023, the fastest-growing subcategories were those that were new to Chinese consumers, such as grape seeds and Spirulina, which are known to address specific wellness concerns.
Fitness and weight-management are now the biggest drivers for the nutritional supplements market
Fitness and weight management are now among the biggest reasons consumers shop for supplements. Interest in weight-loss related products has continued to grow, with a sharp increase starting from the latter half of 2022, as we’ve previously shown. In the first quarter of 2023, protein powders and mass gainers alone contributed to over 10% of the overall online sales of nutritional supplements.
Furthermore, dietary supplements, such as enzymes and probiotics, have also seen a huge increase in market share. Influenced by Japan (where many Japanese women ritually take enzyme pills before each meal), many Chinese consumers believe that enzymes and probiotics are natural, organic, and effective solutions for weight control and anti-aging.
Snack-like supplements winning over young consumers
Young consumers in China like snack-like supplements that are trendy and promoted by Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs). They do not like the idea of taking medicine but prefer snack-like vitamins to keep their overall health conditions in good shape. One representative example is Olly by Unilever, which offers gummy vitamins in many flavors targeted towards a younger demographic.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Baiguan - China Insights, Data, Context to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.