China Health Food Market Trend

by Frank Xu  
March 25, 2019
Frank is a brand/business strategist and researcher with extensive experience in Chinese digital marketing.

China’s health food market is booming. The total sales of health food in mainland China reached RMB237.6 billion in 2017. By 2021, the size of the market is expected to exceed RMB300 billion.

Who’s the core target consumer group for this booming market? Survey data from the China Health Care Association shows that elderly accounts for more than 50% of total consumption. A mature consumer market might be the common target group of health product manufacturers.

However, a new consumer group is showing great consumption potential on health food market, especially on E-commerce platforms.

Post 90s, a young consumer group which refers to people born in year between 1990 and 1999, is becoming an unneglectable new driving force in Chinese health food market landscape.

According to a 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 90 respondents agree that they occasionally or always take nutritional supplements. Only 3.9% claimed having “no plan to take” any health food.

Data from 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-age groups like 30-39-year-olds and 40-49-year-olds take up 30% and 13% respectively. This result differs strikingly with people’s conventional perception of this market.

Three possible reasons that might explain this change:

1. The high-pressure lifestyle of post 90s causes “sub-healthy” symptoms appear much earlier and thus makes them become 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” is the main reason, 48.7% thought “burning mid-night oil” is the key issue. According to AliHealth Report, “hair loss” and “insomnia” are the two most frequently searched key words on Alibaba’s ecommerce platforms among post 90s.

2. Celebrity/KOL influence triggers rising demand on beauty health products. The popularity of short video apps in China enables celebrities and beauty KOLs to demonstrate their beauty and health secret in a more vivid and convincing way. Their lifestyle also becomes a kind of aspiration to lots of young female audience. Celebrities’ live broadcasting of 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 trigger desires of a lot of young female followers to better treat themselves by spending more on products related to health and beauty.

3. Fear of the “greasy” middle-age image leads to a healthy “anti-grease” lifestyle among young people. This is the emotional driver of young Chinese consumers to adopt a healthier lifestyle. “Greasy middle-aged men” is a popular term on Chinese social networks 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 yogurt etc. are getting popular among young urban white collars.

Some key emergent trends/opportunities that health brands can leverage:

1. Making health food snackable:

Ready-to-eat is an important feature for nutrition products to attract young consumers. Their fast-paced work life doesn’t allow them to have the time and patience to take nutrition food regularly. Office is the main consumption location. Eating health food like a snack while working is their preferred way to supplement nutrients. Consumers of health food containing “Ready-to-eat” label increased 27% in 2017 according to 2017 AliHealth Report, among which, post 90s male consumers increased 30%, female consumers increased 34%. Health products like ready-to-eat honey, edible bird’s nest and red date top the sales chart and frequent young white-collar professionals’ office desks.

2. Promising threat-relief rather than nutrients add-on:

Product claims to resolve a potential threat like overweight, high level of grease/fat intake, air/food pollution usually are more appealing to younger audience than simply stressing on how many more nutrients the product can add on. The new generation of Chinese is growing up at a time of unprecedented wealth. Nutrition deficiency is no longer an issue in their mindset. Instead, a product that can protect them from the various health threats in their busy life and external environment is more appealing. This insight also explains why anti-grease claim beverage is rising quickly as a category and salad, a tasteless western food choice, is becoming a popular takeaway lunch option among young office workers in 1st tier cities in China.

3. Sophisticated technology, easy to use:

Compared with the previous generations, post 90s are more willing to spend money to buy time and convenience. They embrace new technologies which can help simplify their life and bring real benefits. According to data from Taobao.com, during the 11/11 shopping festival in 2017, sales of high-tech health products like sleep therapy devices, hair growth machine and teeth cleaning machine all increase exponentially. And most of the buyers are post 90s who don’t want to bother going through the hospital process for therapy. The younger generation of Chinese are usually the early adopters to innovative easy-to-use daily health solutions powered by advanced technology.




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