Breaking barriers: Firms say more consumers outside China willing to try TCM amid COVID-19

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

Firms say that more are willing to try TCM to boost their health in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. ©Getty Images
Firms say that more are willing to try TCM to boost their health in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. ©Getty Images

Related tags China TCM COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a greater willingness to try out traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in regions outside of China, some of the sector’s major players have told us.

For China direct-selling firm Infinitus, queries relating to TCM supplements in Canada have increased by 50%.

“We have been in Canada for the past three years and we used to have a lot of difficulties explaining the concept of ‘qi’, the ‘yin’ and the ‘yang’,”​ Felix Young, the firm’s senior manager of new market development (II) told NutraIngredients-Asia.

“However, due to the outbreak, we have been receiving about 50% more queries from the local Canadians and more traffic to our website. People are becoming more concerned about their immune health,” ​he said.

Sales have increased as a result, but the firm declined to provide details on the percentage growth. The two best-sellers were Inlingzhi – made based on the medicinal lingzhi mushroom – and Inpolysac – also a medicinal mushroom-based product consisting of Lion’s mane and white fungus.

Young explained that the products strengthen the immune system by improving ‘qi’ – referring to bioelectricity.

“The products are rich in polysaccharides, a kind of carbohydrate that helps cells to communicate with each other, improve energy usage, and in turn builds the body’s immune system.”

On the other hand, TCM product manufacturer Shijiazhuang Yiling Pharmaceutical said that countries such as Laos, Thailand, and Ecuador had approved the registration​ of its Lianhua Qingwen capsule.

The product is a TCM formula which has been approved as part of China’s standard therapy against COVID-19.

Such recognition has changed the way foreigners view TCM, the firm’s general manager Wu Xiang Jun told us.

“As people gain a deeper understanding of TCM and as TCM becomes more commonly used, I believe in the future TCM would definitely become an outstanding feature of China’s internationalisation movement,”​ Wu said.   

On the back of the internationalisation of TCM, she said the firm had established a global TCM alliance with branches in Canada, Europe, and in Scandinavian countries.

Room for improvement

On the other hand, there is still room for improvement when it comes to the quality of TCM, such as confronting the issue of heavy metal content.

“For TCM, it is about how you process and extract the active ingredients so that the amount does not decrease in the final product. It is also about how you grow the herb,”​ Young said.

He gave the example of how the firm had worked with farmers to grow the medicinal mushroom on logs instead of sawdust. Doing so helps to increase the amounts of polysaccharides in log-grown mushrooms by three to five times.

Going to new places

Both firms have been expanding their footprint to new regions.

Shijiazhuang Yiling Pharmaceuticals said its TCM products were also available in Russia, Canada and South Korea. 

It had also donated the Lianhua Qingwen capsule to Italy, Iraq while France will be trialling the product on COVID-19 patients.

As for Infinitus, the firm brought its TCM supplements into new markets such as Kazakhstan and Philippines ​last year to tap on the budding interest in TCM products in these regions.

“When we enter new markets, we will consider if we already have connections over there.

“For Kazakhstan, because our customers in Xinjiang introduced the product to their relatives in Kazakhstan, that was how the interest in our products started to grow,” ​Young said.

Due to the pandemic, this year, the firm will reassess its plans and intends to focus on educating the markets that it already operates in. 

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