Exclusive China survey: More investments forecast, better regs welcomed and on-trend categories revealed

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

85% of our respondents expect Chinese investors to continue to acquire overseas supplement brands over the next 12 months.
85% of our respondents expect Chinese investors to continue to acquire overseas supplement brands over the next 12 months.
Chinese investors' seemingly insatiable demand for overseas supplement and functional food firms shows no sign of slowing, with 85% of respondents to our annual industry survey believing the trend is set to continue.

In fact, none of our respondents disagreed that the trend will continue, while the remaining 15% were unsure of possible developments.

The biggest deal so far was for the takeover of Australian vitamin and supplement giant Swisse by Biostime (now known as Health & Happiness) two years ago. The deal amounted to a total of $1.69bn.

A string of high profile acquisitions followed since, with an exceptionally strong interest in Australian health firms. Just this month, two Chinese private equity firms, JIC Investments and Tamar Alliance Fund, have bought a majority stake in Australian vitamin manufacturer Nature's Care for a reported A$800m.

Furthermore, according to a KPMG report,​ China's ageing population and the government's attention on health and well-being will lead to more Chinese capital being pumped into Australia.

"The government's reforms have brought a new commitment to open healthcare to market forces, including foreign commercial providers and health tourism," ​it noted.

Sectors driving growth

Our survey results also revealed that sports nutrition and supplements catered to the ageing population will continue to spur growth in the Chinese market.

Almost 70% agreed that sports nutrition products will continue to be one of the main sales drivers in China.

Another 73% said they are exploring opportunities offered by China's ageing population.

China's sports and fitness industry has been racking up double-digit growth annually, and is expected to grow more than three times to US$786bn by year 2025​.

On the other hand, about a quarter of China's population will be 60 or older by 2030 according to the State Council, bringing immense opportunities for sectors manufacturing products targeted at the elderly.

In China, 30% of the senior population has taken a prescription medication for high blood pressure, with a further 17% taking one for another cardiovascular issue.

In addition, heart health, joint health and cognitive health​ are the other main health concerns of Asian consumers.

Policy regulations

Our respondent’s also responded favourably to recent regulatory developments in China.

New, more stringent, infant formula regulations were introduced in January, with 67% of our respondents agreeing that the new rules have improved the industry's standing among consumers.

Under the new regulations, both local and imported infant formula must obtain registration approval from China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) before they can be sold in China.

In addition, every firm — both local and global — are limited to three brands (one for each of three age ranges) and nine formulations​.

As of January this year, 400 products have been approved, with around 60 from international companies.

Meanwhile, cross-border e-commerce continues to be an area of regulatory uncertainty.

However, following the extension of existing cross-border e-commerce rules to January next year, most of our respondents are optimistic about online retail.

Three-quarters said e-commerce would provide the biggest opportunities for their business in China, with 18% disagreeing.

Under existing laws, most goods entering the Chinese market are regarded as personal trade, rather than for commercial distribution, allowing overseas firms to bypass complex local registration requirements.

More cross-border e-commerce pilot zones will also be set up in China, as announced by a State Council executive meeting.

Tom Ellis, investment director at Australian investment group MAI Capital, said in an earlier interview with NutraIngredients-Asia​ that brands would do well to make e-commerce a core sales channel when doing business with China​, as that market is "huge"​ and "not going away anytime soon"​.

"Huge opportunity remains in the lower-tier (Tiers 2, 3 and 4) cities, as these cities will develop significantly over time," ​he said.

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