Healthplex Expo 2024

Australia aims to take back China’s no. 1 health supplements exporter spot from the US

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

The national flags of Australia and China. © Getty Images
The national flags of Australia and China. © Getty Images

Related tags Homart Blackmores Australia China

Australia is aiming to topple the US as China’s number one health supplements exporter – a title which it first held in 2018 – on the back of warming political relations and market-focused NPD.

Complementary Medicines Australia (CMA) led a team of six member companies to Healthplex Expo held in Shanghai between June 19 and 21. This is also the first time that the CMA delegation attended one of China’s main health supplement tradeshows since COVID-19. 

The six members who attended included a mix of brands and contract manufacturers, namely Blackmores, Homart, Bluegum Pharmaceuticals, Ferngrove Pharmaceuticals, Lipa Pharmaceuticals, and Lavida Pharmaceuticals.

At the official opening of the Australian pavilion at the show, John O’Doherty, CEO of CMA, said he hoped that Australia could take back the title of China's top health supplement exporter from the US. 

“For many years now, Australia and the United States have battled with the title of the number one exporter to China.

“It's a title that I hope we would reclaim again soon and hopefully Healthplex could play a part in achieving it,” ​he said.

Australia toppled the US to become the number one health supplements exporter to China three years in a row between 2018 and 2020. 

During those years, China's imports from Australia had steadily risen from US$660m in 2018, to US$730m in 2019, and US$926m in 2020.

The US was the number one health supplement exporter to China between 2014 and 2017 and later from 2021 to 2023. 

“Australia has held that title in the past but at the moment the US has beaten us, it's certainly one of my goals to try and get back that title of number one exporter, which, when we consider the respective sizes of our markets, for Australia to be such a large exporter to China, it's a great achievement for us, and is also a recognition of just how good the Australian products are,” ​O’Doherty told NutraIngredients-Asia.

This is against the backdrop of improved ties between the two countries.

Chinese premier Li Qiang visited Australia for the first time in seven years as part of his Asia-Pacific tour between June 15 and 18.

“It's great to see that diplomatic relations between Australia and China are improving, it's something that our industry has been hoping that we will see for a long time and so we certainly welcome that change,”​ O’Doherty said.

As a gesture of warming relations, the Chinese authorities have granted a 15-day visa-free entry for Australians, effective from July 1 this year to December 31, 2025. 

“I am delighted to say that Healthplex 2024 is taking place at a really important time in the stabilisation in government-to-government relationship between Australia and China, as Chinese premier Li Qiang returns from a four-day successful visit to Australia,”​ said John Williams, Australian Consul General Shanghai, at the opening.

He added that he was “very excited” ​by the growth in China's health and wellness market and the increasing focus on preventive healthcare and holistic wellbeing.

“It's an area of growing collaboration and significant opportunity in Australia's growing and substantial trade relationship with China.”

Tan Shengcai, vice president at China Chamber of Commerce for Import & Export of Medicines & Health Products (CCCMHPIE), said that the chamber has fostered close ties with the CMA for years, including mutual visits and missions.

“Over the past few years, the CCCMPHIE has had very close relationship with the CMA in terms of organising mutual visits and missions.

“The return of CMA pavilion at Healthplex at this time will provide a great opportunity for companies of the two countries in having further exchanges,” ​he said.

Strategy one: Catering to China consumer needs

One of the ways in winning over Chinese consumers, is to design products specifically for them, said O’Doherty.

Australian brands first won over the Chinese consumers by exporting their local products, but the attention has shifted to tailoring products to Chinese consumers' needs. 

“There's a lot of Australian companies now that are specifically designing products for Chinese consumers. Whereas in the past, it was the case of sending Australian products over into China and hoping that they would be well-received,”​ he said.

Blackmores and Homart are two such examples. Both companies have launched some of their products into China before introducing them back in Australia.

Blackmores, for example, showcased its "Ultra Move" supplement designed for joint, bone, and muscle health, as well as "Ultra Relieve" for joint pain and inflammation. Both products have debuted in China.

The former claims to be a “triple action support for joint, bone, and muscle health”, while the latter claims to “relieve mild joint aches, pains, inflammation and swelling” and “reduces symptoms of mild osteoarthritis”.

Key ingredients used in the former include glucosamine sulfate sodium chloride, bovine sodium chondroitin sulfate, magnesium phosphate pentahydrate, colecalciferol, and calcium citrate tetrahydrate.

The latter uses glucosamine sulfate sodium chloride, bovine sodium chondroitin sulfate, and dimethyl sulfone.

Watch the following video as O’Doherty tells us more about the strategies in cracking the China market.

Homart, on the other hand, launched "Liver Detox" and "Women Liver Protect" tablets under the brand Spring Leaf earlier in China this year.  

Its newer launches, introduced a month ago, were "Kids DHA Algae Oil 250mg" and "Liver Care and Beauty".

Mark Gao, e-commerce manager at Homart, said these products were formulated based on consumer feedback and trends observed from various channels. This included its customer relationship management (CRM) system from its online stores where it collects information on consumer queries and feedback.

Other channels included big data analysis on search terms seen in e-commerce platforms such as Tmall.

The company also differentiates its products by targeting a more specific consumer segment.

For instance, for liver health, it has formulated a product for women instead of the general liver health market.

“We are focusing on a more segmented category, such as women’s liver health. Building on the foundation of women's liver health protection, we have formulated a product that supports skin brightening at the same time,” ​said Gao.

Contract manufacturers get a boost  

The confidence in Australia’s quality and safety have not only propelled Australian brands to new heights in China, but also contract manufacturers, O’Doherty pointed out.

“I think when people think of complementary medicines and VDS (Vitamins & Dietary Supplements) exports out of Australia, they think of consumer brands selling products overseas, but one of the greatest success stories is the OEM, the contract manufacturing that takes place in Australia.

That's where we are seeing significant export growth for companies overseas coming to Australia, getting their products made in Australia, and then taking them back overseas,” ​he said.

He explained that these companies were doing contract manufacturing in Australia, despite of going to cheaper alternatives, because they recognised Australia’s high quality manufacturing standards.

Attending the HNC expo in Shanghai for the first time, Bluegum Pharmaceutical hopes to explore new opportunities and partnerships through the tradeshow. 

The contract manufacturer specialises in solid dose nutraceuticals, including coated, uncoated tablets and chewable tablets.

Other products that it manufactures are two-piece capsules in gelatin and vegetable forms, powder for food and complementary medicines, including vitamin, minerals, and herbal products.

“Australia is renowned for its Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and its strict regulations ensuring high-quality standards and a clean, green environment. This reputation for excellence is highly regarded in China, where there is a strong preference for Australian-made products," ​said Pradeep Jobanputra, general manager, Bluegum Pharmaceutical.

“Partnering with an Australian manufacturer to produce goods in Australia can significantly enhance marketability in China. The Chinese market values the quality and safety associated with Australian products, and are often willing to pay a premium price.

"This partnership would leverage Australia's reputation in driving sales and meeting the growing demand for superior products in China,” ​he added. 

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