Published on: December 7, 2022
China’s health and wellness industry, currently valued at US$683 billion, has seen particularly marked change as consumers reconsider what it means to be well and take care of their health in the age of a pandemic.
These new behaviours rely on the power of the internet to maintain physical and mental wellness. As Chinese consumers deal with the COVID pandemic (like all of us have for the past three years), the home has become the central stage for everything in daily life – from eating and socializing to working and working out.
Pre-pandemic, wellness was already emerging as one of the biggest consumer spending opportunities in China. According to a survey in 2018 by China State Council’s National Fitness Program, 80% of adults over aged 20 surveyed at the time exercised regularly for the past five years. That number has only grown, as this pandemic has revealed that taking care and control of one’s health is more critical than ever before.
The combination of increased awareness of wellness along with rising levels of disposable income has resulted in many consumers in China turning online to meet their needs. According to JD data for Singles’ Day 2022, the transaction volume of nutrition and supplement products was 120% higher than that of last year! WPIC’s Discripto™ data also revealed that sales of broad health and wellness products were up this 11.11 YoY by 17.9%.
What does that mean for international brands in the health and wellness space looking to succeed in the market? Read the post below to identify how best to take advantage of what’s happening in China’s health, wellness, and nutraceutical market.
Fitness is a recreational pursuit for Chinese consumers. The sports and fitness market in China has seen exponential growth in recent years. According to China’s General Administration of Sport, 67.5% of people over have participated in a fitness program at least once a week in 2022, an increase of 18.5% compared to 2014.
This trend for fitness is expected to only accelerate among Chinese youth after China’s regulatory changes to the after-school tutoring market, as well as the government’s institution of time limits on gaming for youth in 2021. Parents in China are reallocating their budgets and their children’s energy to new activities – namely, youth sports. This should only help accelerate the massive growth of the children’s physical fitness sector, which saw YoY growth rates of 204.64% in 2021.
In addition, physical education is currently being considered added to the National University Entrance Exam, which is the most important path for upward social mobility in China. With the number of both parents and children alike showing interest in sports, it is expected for the market to only grow exponentially.
The current youth fitness market in China is still in the emerging stage, and market opportunities are huge. Some international brands have already taken advantage of this untapped market. Stride Rite, for example, the iconic children’s shoe brand successfully launched its flagship store on Tmall in late 2020. Their athletic shoes are popular amongst parents both in China and the U.S. alike.
Fitness enthusiasts around the world embraced at-home fitness during the pandemic, but nowhere is the trend more pronounced than in China.
The number of sports and fitness videos on Douyin increased by 134% year-on-year in 2021. During a 2-month COVID lockdown in Shanghai, Will Liu, a singer/actor-turned-fitness-instructor, amassed over 55 million followers on Douyin by livestreaming his daily workout sessions. It broke the record previously set by livestream superstar, Austin Li.
Attending (and sharing) workouts online has become a popular way for Chinese people to cope with some of the lockdowns. Restricted by the continuing travel ban, many of China’s youth have gravitated towards working out. According to a 2021 report by Chinese data firm MobTech, the workout population in the country is expected to reach 560 million by the end of 2030. Fortunately, both international and local brands alike have been thriving in this fitness boom.
For example, ultimate frisbee has become one of the most popular sports amongst younger urbanites over the past year. Lifestyle platform Xiaohonghu’s official data reports that posts about frisbee on the app increased six-fold over the past 12 months. Quick to spot the opportunity, WPIC helped Hydro Flask capitalize on this trend by helping the brand become the official partner of one of the most influential frisbee communities in China. The brand also connected the offline world with online reach through livestreaming.
In China, the probiotic market has historically been driven by products targeted at infants and kids. The adult segment, on the other hand, is relatively underdeveloped, but it has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years. Over the past few years, more and more adults have been buying probiotics to support their own health. What was once a supplement primarily associated with digestive health is now also linked to immunity, weight management, stress reduction, and feminine health.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, probiotics are experiencing a boom in China as consumers look for functional ingredients that can improve their health. According to Mintel, China has surpassed both the US and Europe to become the top global market for probiotic supplement sales. This growth in demand has spurred innovations, both in marketing by local Chinese manufacturers, but also in the product development of international brands, who are creating supplements that they know are particularly popular among Chinese consumers (including ones that are not intended to be sold in their home market).
China’s aging population has contributed considerably to the increase of the health and wellness market. The Chinese government statistics revealed that the number of people aged 65 or above reached 200 million in 2021, or 14.2% of the total population. By 2023, the share of seniors in China is expected to reach 25%.
A Mainland China report in 2021 indicated that more than 50% of middle-aged and elderly Chinese consumers spend more than 40% of their total expenditures on health and wellness products and services. Much like their counterparts in the West, these consumers are very concerned with maintaining their wellness and are willing to spend money on it.
Taking a handful of supplements – from omega-3 capsules, to enzymes, to TCM herbal capsules – have become a standard morning ritual for modern Chinese pensioner. On Tmall, the top 3 best-selling supplements for older adults are all calcium-collagen capsules for joint health.
Elderly Chinese consumers have also embraced the many supplemented food products that are specially designed for them. High-protein milk powders, for example, have quickly become a mainstay in many seniors’ diets.
Much like their counterparts in busy cities in the West, consumers in China are quite focused on building and establishing economic security for themselves and their families. While this promotes economic growth and stability, it also erodes at the notion of “work-life balance”, and has given rise to trends like China’s 996 culture (a colloquial term that refers to working 9 am to 9 pm, 6 days per week).
As a result, that work ethic, combined with rapid urbanization is driving even more health and wellness product consumption in China. Excessive work hours in tier 1 and 2 cities combined with rising disposable incomes have led to increased awareness of the physical toll that stress can have on people’s bodies. To mitigate the short and long-term effects of that stressful lifestyle, hundreds of millions of consumers are on the lookout for something that can boost productivity, reduce stress, increase energy, and improve sleep quality.
Gummy supplements have witnessed exceptional growth and are increasingly favoured by young consumers and many first-time supplement users. Sleep aid, enzyme, and beauty vitamin gummies have all gone viral on Tmall Global.
The pandemic may have affected parts of China’s economy but it has substantially boosted the sales of products that are focused on health, wellness, fitness, and staying at home.
Fortunately for both brands and consumers, it’s safe to say that health and wellness will remain high on people’s priorities. Products that maintain and improve well-being will have a lasting and increasingly important presence in Chinese people’s home.
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