Beauty banker: Korean investment expert and digital marketing specialist eye SEA’s beauty-from-within market

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

THE APRILAB hopes to build a name for itself in South East Asia's beauty-from-within markets. ©THE APRILAB
THE APRILAB hopes to build a name for itself in South East Asia's beauty-from-within markets. ©THE APRILAB

Related tags Korea South east asia beauty-from-within

An investment banker, corporate manager, and digital marketing specialist have established a South Korea-based start-up specialising in beauty-from-within products that debuted in South East Asian markets recently.

Known as THE APRILAB, the start-up launched its products which address concerns across ageing, skin tone, inflammation, and acne on e-commerce platform Shopee in Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines. There are plans to expand to Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia in the near-term.

The products, co-developed with and manufactured by COSMAX NBT, are not yet available in South Korea. However, the company has plans to develop a flagship café in South Korea where the nutricosmetics will be sold.

The company believes that South East Asia is an attractive market due to the appeal of K-beauty and there are more growth opportunities in the region as compared to South Korea – which it said was already a highly crowded and competitive market. 

These days, you can find an entire section of Olive Young [health and beauty retailing chain] dedicated to inner beauty products. In combination with TV and internet spots including major celebrities like Song Hye-Ko, public displays, and aggressive influencer marketing, consumer visibility on beauty supplements seems to be at an all-time high.

In fact, the domestic market is starting to look crowded, but we see enormous opportunities abroad.

                                                                                                                                                   - Lucy Lee, head of technology, THE APRILAB  

Lee's day job is digital marketing for a global technology company and the team also comprised of an investment banker and corporate manager.

Lee said the reason for setting up the company was because of their personal interests in beauty and wellness. Moreover, there has been a wealth of R&D driving new scientific discoveries in this area. One example is the gut-skin axis. 

Citing figures from the Korea Health Supplements Association, Lee pointed out that South Korea’s consumption of nutricosmetics was up seven per cent last year to US$4.5bn.

On the other hand, imports of functional food raw ingredients were up 23.4 per cent​ as domestic supplement manufacturers increased production for exports.

“We see that the nutricosmetics market in South East Asia is relatively nascent versus North Asia markets, but we expect a big surge in growth as health and wellness trends from Korea and Japan flow south-bound.

“South East Asian markets are just starting to become more aware of concepts like holistic beauty, inner beauty, clean beauty. The timing is right.”

Format innovation

The firm’s current product series consist of three SKUs and are all designed in ready-to-consume powder sachet. The sachets are then packed in a small box that is about the size of a cigarette pack.

Ultrabright Aprilab

“Like other nutritional supplements, nutricosmetics don’t provide instant gratification. Consumers need to consume these products over an extended period of time to see the effects.

“What we’ve found is that long-term use only happens when products are inserted into a consumer’s daily flow. If beauty supplements don’t become a habit, they won’t be consumed for more than a few days or weeks,”​ said Lee, who said the products were “designed to defeat excuses”.​ 

“Although it may be new to some consumers in South East Asia, consuming powder directly is the most common method in South Korea. This approach allows us to minimise unnecessary water-soluble ingredients and shrink overall volume so that our products are super portable while providing maximum impact.

“We want consumers to take these products with them wherever they go, throw them in their bags, pockets, so that THE APRILAB is always top-of-mind,”​ Lee said.

Aprilab time blast 2
Time Blast

One of the SKUs, known as Time Blast, is a blueberry flavoured powder containing type I and III marine collagen, milk ceramides for anti-wrinkle, moisturising, skin elasticity.

The other product is Ultrabright, a citrus-flavoured powder containing glutathione, vitamin C for brightening, whitening, and damage repair.

The remaining SKU is Super Balance, which contains 10bn CFU of lactobacillus acidophilus, lactobacillus casei ​and lactobacillus paracasei, ​as well as fructooligosaccharides (FOS) as prebiotic for acne prevention, digestion and metabolism enhancement, and anti-inflammation.

She also said that the small product format could keep costs down, allowing first-time consumers of beauty supplements to trial a new category without a major upfront investment.

At the moment, a box of 10 sachets is available at SGD$36 (US$26) on Shopee Singapore.

“Significant R&D advancements combined with format innovation have been key to mainstream adoption of beauty supplements.

“In South Korea, beauty-focused functional foods are available in every shape, size and price imaginable. From ultra-expensive offerings to cheaper grab-and-go beauty jellies found on 7/11 check-out counters, the range is very wide.

“Although long-term use is essential, we want to widen the funnel and ensure that consumers have access to a premium formulation at a reasonable cost,” ​she said. 

The company is also partnering Vitamin Angels, where every pack purchased will sponsor six months’ worth of vitamin A to malnourished children across South East Asia.

Future plans

The company plans to explore vegan and halal offerings next. 

Aprilab Super Balance
Super Balance

“We also want to explore more plant-based ingredients and convert to vegan products. Halal is also high on our list, though it is still difficult to find Korea-based manufacturers that adhere to, for example, Indonesia halal standards,”​ Lee said.

Another plan is to offer a more durable packaging, such as replacing the current packaging with a metal box, which can then be refilled with sachets using a subscription-like refill service. The company believes that doing so will be cost effective and more environmentally friendly.

There is also room to explore other product formats such as gummies and films.

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