New number one: Australia takes top spot from US for supplements and health foods imported into China

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Australia imports into China are now valued at $660m. ©GettyImages
Australia imports into China are now valued at $660m. ©GettyImages
Australia now accounts for 22.3% of all supplements and health foods imported into China, taking the top spot from the US, which had a 20.4% share of the market in 2018.

According to data from the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Medicines and Health Products (CCCMHPIE), Australian imports recorded growth of 60.8% year-on-year to US$660m.

Overall, The total import amount of supplements and health foods imported into China in 2018 was US$3.01bn billion – representing annual growth of 37.7%.

The provinces and cities with largest import volumes are Guangdong, Zhejiang, Shanghai and Beijing.

“These areas are economically developed with strong ability to consume health products. Its e-commerce, especially cross-border e-commerce, is developing rapidly. Australian brands like Swisse, Blackmores rank high in the import volume,”​ noted CCCMHPIE 

After Australia, the next two biggest countries responsible for imports are  the United States and Germany, with the import volume of US$620m and US$280m respectively, equating to  year-on- year growth of 39.6% and 39.9%.

Remarkable rise

The statistics further highlight the remarkable rise in the Australian industry in recent years, with its impressive performance heavily dependent on exports to China and, to a lesser extent, the wider APAC region.

It also should be noted that these numbers are for official imports, and do not include the vast volumes of daigou trade – where Chinese ‘personal shoppers' buy products in Australia and ship back to buyers in China.

Last year we reported that trade body Complementary Medicines Australia believed that daigou shoppers accounted for $800m of 'unofficial' supplement exports​ from Australia to China.

To put it into context, CMA at the time valued the overall industry value to be worth $4.9bn, up from $4.2bn in 2017. Therefore, daigou shoppers alone are responsible for around 17% of this value.

Looking ahead, stable cross-border e-commerce regulations will be key to long-term success of Australian exports to China.

There has been widespread uncertainty over China’s intention to clamp down on the practice​ in order to boost tax revenues in recent years, something Australian brands will be keen to see avoided given the complexities of securing regulatorry approvals for in-market trade.

In another boost for the Australian industry this week, the federal government has said it will support continued access to the ‘Australian Made’ logo for supplements manufactured in production facilities regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

This comes after a high-profile court case between Australian supplement brand Nature's Care and Australian Made Campaign Limited (AMCL),​ which resulted in the Federal Court ruling that the company's imported fish oil and vitamin D capsules were not permitted to be labelled 'made in Australia', despite the encapsulation process taking place in Australia.

This ruling was issued under the Australian Consumer Law's (ACL) Country of Origin labelling provisions.

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews said the Government had now responded to the findings of the Complementary Medicine Taskforce and feedback given by industry.

The Coalition Government is listening to the feedback of the complementary healthcare industry regarding the unintended consequences of Country of Origin labelling reforms on their products,”​ Minister Andrews said.

“The Australian Made logo can be of great benefit to local industry as a universal, high brand recognition, point of difference to other products.

“Its use demonstrates to consumers that they can have the confidence that a vitamin or mineral supplement carrying the Australian Made logo has been manufactured in Australia to the highest quality standards.

“The Coalition Government will continue to support the industry’s remarkable export success by ensuring these Australian-based manufacturers can continue to claim ‘Australian made’ for their products.”


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