China’s health food market is booming. The total sales of health food in mainland China reached 237.6 billion RMB in 2017. By 2021, the size of the market is expected to exceed 300 billion RMB.
Who’s the main target consumer group for this booming market? The China Health Care Association survey data shows that the elderly accounts for more than 50% of total consumption. A mature consumer market might be the typical target group of health product manufacturers.
However, a new consumer group is showing excellent consumption potential in the health food market, especially on e-Commerce platforms.
Post-90s, the term refers to the generation born between 1990 and 1999, this generation is becoming an unneglectable new driving force in the Chinese health food market landscape.
According to research focusing on post-90s’ health habits and attitudes by SootooInstitute, an online research and data analysis company based in Beijing, close to 70% of post-90s respondents agree that they occasionally or always take nutritional supplements. Only 3.9% claimed to have “no plan to take” any health supplements.
Data from the 2017 AliHealth Consumer Report also confirmed this emerging trend. In 2017, more than half (52%) of the health product customers on Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms are young people under 30 years old. In contrast, middle-aged groups like 30-39-year-olds and 40-49-year-olds take up 30% and 13% respectively. This result differs strikingly from the conventional perception of this market. Three possible reasons that might explain this change:
The high-pressure lifestyle of post-90s causes “sub-healthy” symptoms to appear much earlier and thus makes them more health-conscious. Most respondents in SootooInstitute’s survey agreed that they were in a “sub-healthy” status, and 65.6% of the respondents claimed “high pressure in work” to be the main reason. 48.7% thought “burning midnight oil” is the key issue. According to AliHealth Report, “hair loss” and “insomnia” are the two most frequently searched keywords on Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms among post-90s.
Celebrity/KOL influence triggers demand growth on beauty health products. The popularity of short video apps in China enables celebrities and beauty KOLs to demonstrate their beauty and health secrets more vividly and convincingly. Their lifestyle also becomes a type of aspiration to many young female audiences. Celebrities’ live-streaming their tips on how to wash your hair in a correct way to avoid hair loss, what kind of daily supplement can make your skin fairer etc., helped educate and provoke the desires of many young female followers to better treat themselves by spending more on health and beauty products.
Fear of the “greasy” middle-aged image lead to a healthy “anti-grease” lifestyle among younger generations. It helps motivate young Chinese consumers to adopt a healthier lifestyle. “Greasy middle-aged men” is a popular term on Chinese social media to describe uncouth, overweight middle-aged men. Keeping fit and looking refined has become younger consumers’ way to distinguish themselves from this “greasy” image. Thus, nutritional products or healthy food choices like salad, low-fat yoghurt, etc., are popular among young urban white collars.
Some key emergent trends/opportunities that health brands can leverage:
Making health food stackable
Ready-to-eat is an essential feature for nutrition food to attract young consumers. People mainly eat at work. Their fast-paced work-life requires efficiency. Eating healthy food like a snack while working is their preferred way to supplement nutrients. Consumers of health food containing the “Ready-to-eat” label increased 27% in 2017 according to the 2017 AliHealth Report, among which, post-90s male consumers increased by 30%, female consumers increased by 34%. Health products like ready-to-eat honey, edible bird’s nest, and red jujubes top the sales chart and are frequently seen on young white-collar professionals’ office desks.
Issue-resolving rather than nutrients add-on
Product claims to resolve a potential health issue like obesity are usually more appealing to the younger audience. The new generation of Chinese grows up at a time of unprecedented wealth; therefore, nutrition deficiency is no longer an issue. They want products that can protect them from the various health threats in their busy life and external environmental pollutions. This insight also explains why fat-free beverages are rising quickly, and salad is becoming a popular takeaway lunch option among young office workers in many cities in China.
Sophisticated technology, easy to use
The younger generations of Chinese are usually the early adopters to innovative, easy-to-use daily health solutions powered by advanced technology. Compared with the previous generations, post-90s are more willing to spend money to buy time and convenience. They embrace new technologies which make everything simpler and also bring actual benefits. According to data from Taobao.com, during the 11/11 Singles Day shopping festival in 2017, sales of high-tech health products like sleep therapy devices, hair growth machines, and teeth cleaning devices all increased exponentially. And most of the buyers are post-90s who don't want trips to the hospitals for treatment.