New info details size of potential Chinese export market for US supplements

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Obesity Nutrition

US-made dietary supplements carry a halo of quality and safety in the Chinese market.
US-made dietary supplements carry a halo of quality and safety in the Chinese market.
New information released by the US-China Health Products Association gives insight into the massive export opportunity that awaits US dietary supplement manufacturers.  A high proportion of Chinese consumers buy health products, and a large proportion of consumers concerned about their weight are young.

In a recent newsletter from the organization, a report detailed a recent public presentation by Zhang Yonjiang, director of food and drug development monitoring at the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.  According to Zhang, 67.8% of Chinese consumers bought health food (the regulatory category that includes dietary supplements) in the latter half of 2012, while for the first half of 2013 that number ticked up to 68.8%, showing the huge potential market for these products.

Emphasis on brand

In even better news for potential exporters, Zhang said the organization of the industry is changing from a market-lead one to an industry organized more along the lines of technology and capital.

“The impact of brand is growing rapidly, and customers will pay more attention to the brand of what they buy,”​ Zhang said.  This can only be seen as a good thing for foreign brands, especially American ones, as many observers have noted that the ‘made-in-USA’ imprimatur on a dietary supplement carriers a halo of quality and safety in Chinese market.

In addition, Zhang said the elderly population in China would grow to about 17% of the total population by 2020, producing a huge potential market for healthy aging products.

Weight management opportunity

An opposite trend is appearing in the weight management sphere, according USCHPA. A report form the World Health Association the rate of adult obesity in China rose from 25% in 2002 to 38.5% in 2010, and most of those obese adults were living in urban areas.  The WHO report projected that more than 50% of Chinese adults will be classified as obese by 2015.  But according to the China Health Association, this rise in obesity is a phenomenon prevalent in younger adults; according to the association, 79.4% of Chinese consumers who say they are on a diet are younger than 29 years old.

Thicket of regulations

The good news about size of the potential market going forward is tempered by several factors.  One is that the Chinese gifting custom greatly limits shelf space, according to US-CHPA head Jeff Crowther.  Many products, including dietary supplements, are packaged in large, ornate boxes that make them a showier gift for business associates and family members.

The other drag on the development of the market is the complicated and contradictory nature of health product regulation. Registering a new product as a health food can be a dauntingly expensive and time-consuming proposition, taking as long as three years and costing as much as $50,000. US-CHPA has called for reform of the country’s regulatory system for supplements​, including more tightly defining what a “health-food product”​ actually is.

“The ambiguous nature of the current regulatory system and market environment has created a confusing overall experience for consumers and sends mixed messages about the role of health-food products,”​ the organization said.

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