China Trendwatching: What Brands Can Learn From Chinese Consumers’ Growing Interest in Healthy Living

There’s been an increase in awareness of health and wellness topics in China. It started even before Covid. Chinese health information platform Dingxiang Yisheng’s 2019 National Health Insights Report (2019国民健康洞察报告) shows that 93% of respondents saw their personal health as the most important thing in life (having a happy family and good mental health came next at 73% and 47%).

Increased health awareness among in Chinese consumers of all ages

Following China’s National Health Conference in 2016, leaders made health a national priority and announced the Healthy China 2030 Blueprint. In 2019, an action plan was released with 15 specific health-related goals to be achieved between 2020-30. Among these goals were reducing obesity rates and increasing overall physical activity levels. These initiatives helped drive greater attention to health topics among Chinese consumers.

Ipsos recently released the results of a survey that showed that 84% of 3,000 respondents aged 18-65 from Tier 1-3 cities pay more attention to their health now. People aged 25 or older showed a substantial increase in health awareness with close to half reporting feeling satisfied with their current health.

Sports, health supplements, healthy eating, and putting good health habits and routines into practice (called yangsheng – 养生) are likely to be the top growth areas in the wellness industry. 57.8% of consumers rated a healthy lifestyle as their key priority when it came to pursuing wellness, according to iiMedia. A 2020 Ipsos’s report also revealed that 83% of consumers rated having a balanced diet as one the most important health habits. Among the top 10 health habits, 5 are diet and nutrition-related.

So what are some of the evolving eating preferences of Chinese consumers? Let’s have a look.

The top health food F&B brands in China

Traditional Chinese health foods such as bird’s nest (Yanwo – 燕窝) and donkey gelatin (Ejiao – 阿胶) have been hits recently. Brands such as Dong’e Ejiao (东阿阿胶) and Xiaoxianduan (小仙炖) have managed to make these ancient health products easy and convenient to prepare and have been very well-received by Chinese consumers.

Bird’s next brand Xiaoxiandun has been particularly popular in China among women in higher tier cities lately. It offers ready-to-eat products via cold-chains and has successfully launched a convenient subscription service for consumers. During the 618 Shopping Festival (from June 1 to June 20), Xiaoxiandun’s sales exceeded 245 million RMB, a year-on-year increase of 463%. As for this year’s Double 11 Festival, their GMV exceeded 465 million RMB and beat Swisse to clinch the No.1 title in Tmall’s health category. Xiaoxiandun is also the first F&B brand to enter the 100 Million Club through livestreaming.

Xiaoxiandun, a health supplement brand in China
Screenshot of different subscription plans from Xiaoxiandun on RED

Local brands, such as Wangbaobao (王饱饱), are crushing the breakfast cereal market, beating foreign brands such as Quaker and Calbee. Wangbaobao was the cereal category champion on TMall during 2020’s 618 Shopping Festival. For Double 11, Wangbaobao came 6th on Tmall’s list of the top 20 brands (by GMV) in the coffee, cereal and instant drinks category. Other local F&B brands that have had fantastic results include powdered food brand Wugu Mofang (五谷磨房) (number 5 on the same list), sugar-free beverage company Yuanqi Senlin (元气森林) (number 9) and meal replacement maker WonderLab (number 15).

F&B brands that aren’t traditionally health-oriented are hopping on the health bandwagon as well. They’re doing this through new product launches – mini Oreos with assorted nuts and dried fruit – or brand collaborations – Pacific Coffee collaborating with Dong’e Ejiao for Ejiao coffee.

Oreo's attempt on creating healthy snacks
Screenshot of mini Oreos, assorted nuts and dried fruits on WeChat

For health supplements, consumers tend to purchase international brands through cross-border e-commerce platforms like Tmall Global. Popular foreign brands include Swisse, FANCL, and Shiseido.

Young Chinese consumers have more and more health concerns

More and more young consumers under 35 have started paying attention to their health and are working to establish healthy eating habits. Since young consumers soon become the most prominent consumer group, their preferences soon become the main determining factor for what the hit or miss products will be. Convenience, aesthetics, and fun remain key to a product’s success.

A lot of young people have concerns previously reserved for older groups, like hair loss, worries about heart attacks, overwork, exhaustion and stress. They’re starting to pay attention to sports and eating habits to improve their health. However, frequently, they’re only trying to compensate for unhealthy habits. For example, eating a salad after a hotpot feast or doing yoga after pulling an all-nighter. This has given rise to another pattern called Punk Health (朋克养生).

Punk Health

While traditional healthy lifestyles stress taking time out of your schedule to put healthy habits into practice, Punk Health is more about squeezing in healthy habits throughout the day to make up for unhealthy ones. Punk Health is perhaps best described as “putting on the most expensive sheet mask after pulling the longest all-nighter” or “adding goji berries to beer and ginseng to Coke”. Some health officials have already spoken out against Punk Health as these quick fixes can’t reverse the damage done by poor health habits.

While Punk Health may not bring many concrete health benefits, some brands have acted on this phenomenon with early foresight and created products that cater to this mindset. Tongrentang (同仁堂), China’s best-known traditional Chinese medicine brand recently set up a new café in Beijing. The café sells coffee and milk teas infused with elements of Chinese medicine. Some of the best-selling drinks include goji lattes (枸杞拿铁), Chinese motherwort and rose lattes (益母草玫瑰拿铁) and hawthorn and dried tangerine peel Americano (山楂陈皮美式). Some of these bestsellers can sell up to a thousand cups each day. It’s said that Tongrentang is planning to open 300 stores in the coming year

Punk health coffee shop
Screenshot of a Punk Health coffee shop via Weibo. (Photo courtesy of 小D姑凉)

As Chinese consumers become increasingly aware of health-related topics, more innovations and trends will be on their way.

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