VitamINSIGHTS

Taiwan nutra market: Eye health, beauty, probiotics trending, with food firms, influencers entering business

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

Eye health, beauty, probiotics trending in Taiwan, with food firms, influencers entering nutra business

Related tags Taiwan Probiotics Eye health influencer marketing

Eye care is consistently cited as one of the top trending health supplement categories in Taiwan, alongside beauty-from-within, and functional probiotics that serve purposes beyond gut health, say leading industry players in our latest deep dive into a key Asian market.

Taiwan’s health supplement market is worth almost NTD$170bn (US$5.24bn).

Between 2022 and 2023, the market is said to have grown by 17.4 per cent and the growth rate for this year is estimated to reach 15 to 17 per cent, Min-Hsiung Pan, distinguished professor and director at National Taiwan University’s Institute of Food Science and Technology told NutraIngredients-Asia. ​Pan is also the president of the Health Food Society of Taiwan. 

The booming demand has also attracted general food and beverage companies, skincare and cosmetics brands, influencers, and drugmakers into the industry.

Taipei-headquartered contract development and manufacturing company TCI Co Ltd, for example, pointed out that traditional food firms are launching protein or dietary fibre-fortified products – in line with the ongoing trend for healthier food products.

taiwan info 2

“These healthier food options could also complement the company’s existing product line,”​ Huang added.

Starting off with specific supplements might also be more tedious for the food companies, as these products would require much more consumer education and firms might find it challenging to transit seamlessly from their existing business, she explained.

Professor Pan raised the same point, adding how general beverage firms have crossed into the realm of functional health drinks. This is driven by rising consumer awareness to “eating well”.

A report from Euromonitor in October last year described Taiwan’s consumer health sector as being “highly fragmented with multiple players vying for position in most categories.”

In fact, no company has managed to claim a double-digit market value share. Leading companies include Amway Taiwan and Cerebos (Taiwan) Ltd.

Market competition is further intensified with greater uptake of e-commerce and the rise of influencers getting into the business. This means that new products are now being pushed out at a rate faster than before.

Better Biosciences (好好生医) is one example established by an internet personality.  

Founded by 37-year-old digital creator Evelyn Chen, who is also known as Li Ke Tai Tai (理科太太) or “Mrs Science”, Better Biosciences launched its first product – The Astronaut Vitamins (太空人维他命) containing 12 essential nutrients and antioxidants said to counter the effects of everyday stress in 2021. The 12 ingredients include superoxide dismutase, co-enzyme Q10, lutein, astaxanthin, and vitamin D.

Better Biosciences The Astronaut Vitamins
The Astronaut Vitamins, Better Biosciences' very first product launched back in 2021. © Better Biosciences

In the same year, the company also introduced its Airplane Mode Capsule (飞航模式胶囊) for sleep aid developed to address the growing need for effective, non-drowsy sleep support products. Ingredients used include patented saffron extract marketed as affron®, folic acid, vitamin B6, and B12. 

The products are sold online on their website, as well as e-commerce sites Shopee and MOMO.

Chen started off as a Youtuber in 2018 sharing scientific knowledge, and later went into interviewing celebrities, and in the process, garnered a massive number of female followers.

To cater to her female followers, the company specialises in developing supplement products that address key concerns of office workers in their 20s to 30s.

Today, Better Biosciences is perhaps best-known for its salic acid probiotics (燕窝酸益生菌), which is its top-selling product.

Better Biosciences Salic Acid Probiotics
Better Biosciences' Salic Acid Probiotics. © Better Biosciences

As its name suggests, the product supplements salic acid – a bioactive component found in edible bird’s nest for supporting skin beauty.

However, no edible bird’s nest is used, instead, the product is formulated with vitamin B2, B5, C, Ligilactobacillus salivarius​ TCI153, grape seed extract, and soluble fire Nutriose®.

According to VP of product development, Vicky Yang, the product works by having the probiotics secrete sialic acid.

In this series of VitamINSIGHTS, we will find out more about the trending categories in Taiwan, key challenges that the market is facing, and how is the market different from others.

Trending categories: Eye care, beauty, probiotics

Perhaps unique to the Taiwanese market, eye care has been consistently pointed out by all three interviewees as one of the most popular health supplement categories.

Yang said that this could be due to the demographic that the company was catering to – office workers who spend long hours at the screen.

“Since our brand caters to specific target audience, in this case, young female office workers, our customers tend to care more about vision care, gut health, and beauty-from-within,” ​she said.

This year, the company launched an upgraded version of The Astronaut Vitamins, which is focusing more on eye care by increasing its lutein and astaxanthin content. Anthocyanins from bilberries are also added to the product. 

Meanwhile, the company is formulating another product for eye strain relief, as well as soothing dry and fatigue eyes due to excessive screen time. 

taiwan info 1

TCI Co Ltd’s R&D assistant manager Dr Rebecca Chan, on the other hand, said that there has been a growing trend of using functional probiotics to support vision care, as well as other areas beyond gut health, such as liver care and sleep support.

“Functional probiotics are becoming more popular because of its efficacy, and this has led to a higher repurchase rate and in the process, shaping the market. Also, there is now more research showing its effects on the gut, eye health, sleep and etc.”

However, it should be noted that the current regulations do not allow health supplements to make claims related to the relieving of eye strain or eye dryness or fatigue.

As such, companies usually use lutein in their eye health supplements so that consumers can understand the purpose of the product.

Nowadays, bilberries and antioxidants are also in trend and are used to “hint to customers that the product could relieve eye dryness,” ​said Yang.  

“However, overall market trends point to the top four categories that I have mentioned,” ​she said.

The other three popular categories that she was referring to were products for boosting energy, supporting gut health and immunity, multivitamins, and digestive enzymes.

“Probiotics, in particular, have been huge, because they cover both gut health and immune system, which a lot of people are really into right now,” ​she said.

Watch the following video as Yang tells us more about the popular health supplement categories, the reasons behind it, and the company's new product development pipeline.

In terms of dosage formats, Dr Chan said that brands that go to TCI Co. Ltd. would mostly prefer ready-to-drink liquid products that come in packets, bottles, and sachets, depending on the target audience and the sales channels.

“In Taiwan, health supplements are mostly consumed by office workers, children, and the elderly. Thus, there would be more products in the liquid format,” ​she said. 

Like most other markets, beauty-from-within products such as collagen and whitening products, as well as enzymes for weight management, gut and immune health, and functional probiotics also rank high in Taiwan’s popular health supplement categories.

However, there is growing demand for sleep aid and stress relief products, in response to environmental and lifestyle stress.

As such, Better Biosciences had launched a new sleep support product in late April to tap on the trend.

“Now, we are launching our new sleep support product as well, which is for targeting different sleep issues like magnesium deficiency and other symptoms related to an overactive nervous system,”​ Yang said, when speaking to us in late April, adding that the capsule product also contained GABA.

Raw materials such as astaxanthin and resveratrol are also receiving more industry queries, said Dr Chan.

Prof Pan, on the other hand, pointed out that botanicals and herbal products are some of the fastest growing categories on the back of the ongoing plant-based trend and a growing amount of research in this area.

Sports nutrition, cognitive health, and personalised supplements are also emerging categories, he said.

Resonate with consumers: Brand marketing versus product labelling and ESG  

Asked how Taiwan’s health supplement market is unique to other regions, Huang pointed out that brand reputation would tend to take priority over what was written on the product labels.

This is in fact, a trend seen across most Asian markets, which however, is the opposite case in the US and Europe.

“In Taiwan and Asia, consumers are more concerned about brand reputation when selecting the types of supplements to purchase.

“However, in Europe and the US, because the health supplements industry is already very matured, product labelling therefore becomes more important. Consumers are able to read and understand the labelling contents. They will look for the health claims and could understand if the ingredients are beneficial,”​ said Huang.

This also means that different approaches are used to help consumers resonate with the products.

Taiwan info 3

For the US and European markets, the focus would be on supporting brand partners with scientific data to back up the health claims made, so as to fulfil consumers’ need for such information.

In Asia, however, the focus would be more on brand marketing and in creating a brand story. As such, the approach could be about how the raw materials and ingredients used are sourced from a certain location of unique interest.

Similarly, issues such as sustainability and Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) have yet to rank high in Asian markets, including Taiwan, as compared to the Western markets when it comes to the health supplement sector.

“In Asia and Taiwan, consumer sentiments on whether a product is sustainable or environmentally friendly is not as strong at this point –  at least in the health supplements sector. Perhaps in the other industries, there is a stronger sentiment there, but not yet for the health supplements industry.

“However, in the US and Europe, consumers are concerned about the sustainability of products, including health supplements. And so, we will use recycled materials in the packaging or produce carbon neutral products.”

The concept of circular economy is also be applied, where glass bottles used for product packaging are made from recycled material.

“This is a noticeable trend in the US and Europe, and it might take some time for greater consumer awareness in Asia,”​ she said.

Challenges

Regulatory restriction was consistently highlighted as the main challenge faced by Taiwan’s health supplement industry.

There are strict regulations around food ingredients and additives, which makes it difficult to import new or novel ingredients, and this could limit new product development in the process.

“Importing innovative food into Taiwan is not easy. Many ingredients that are widely used in other countries are banned here and getting new ingredients approved could take years.

“We understand the government’s intention in ensuring product safety and quality for the consumers, but this limits the ingredients that Taiwanese companies can use, which makes it harder to differentiate our products from the competitors,” ​said Yang. 

She gave the example of melatonin, which could not be used in sleep support health supplements as it is categorised as a medicine. As such, GABA and saffron are the most commonly used ingredients instead.

Secondly, since only officially registered health foods are allowed to make specific therapeutic health claims, Yang said that this has kept companies from optimising their products as the registration process could be both time and financially consuming.

This has also affected the extent to which consumers could understand the purposes and functions of a certain product.

“Unless the product is officially registered as a health food, you are not allowed to say any specific therapeutic benefits. However, getting health foods registration costs a lot of money and requires years of research. This discourages companies from optimising their products with the improvement of biotechnology.

“As a result, many health supplements on the market are not classified as health foods. Their advertising copy often skirt around the law. Some companies pay fines and write overblown claims, while others played it safe and don’t say much at all.

“This leaves the consumers confused about what products really can do,” ​said Yang, who is in favour of Japan’s Foods with Function Claims (FFC) system.

Prof Pan echoed the point, explaining that regulations would need to change in tandem with new research and scientific developments.

“Because academic research progresses fast, and so, when an ingredient with a certain function is discovered, there are limitations on the health claims that could be made or conveyed to the public,” ​he said, adding how the current Taiwanese system is unlike Japan’s FFC framework.

However, he also pointed out the importance and companies’ responsibility in maintaining consumer trust, in view of Japan’s ongoing red yeast rice scandal.

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