From sleep supplements to skincare, Chinese consumers are putting wellness and self-care back on the agenda. For Holland & Barrett and others, it’s about tapping into social and cultural phenomena as well as educating consumers on the benefits…
As the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic continue to impact people in China, young, urban consumers are increasingly acknowledging the importance of self-care – and buying products to help them on their wellness journey. People are looking for solutions to previously ignored issues such as anxiety, insomnia and work-related stress, and putting more effort into looking after themselves.
“There has been an attitude shift in China post-Covid,” Joanna Zhou, China Manager for Holland & Barrett, tells FOCUS. “Especially after the recent strict Covid lockdowns, people are reprioritising health.” And it is not just fear of the virus that is driving this shift. It comes at a time when many people in China – particularly Gen Z – are questioning the value of the country’s all-or-nothing 996 work culture, which leaves little time for exercise or nutritionally balanced meals.
Despite this revaluation, people continue to lead hectic work lives, and as a result, interest in products to improve sleep quality or combat the effects of repeated late nights such as melatonin is growing. Holland & Barrett has observed that ‘sleep’ as a sub-category is one of the top three categories that Tmall is promoting.
With time at a premium, Zhou says that many consumers are looking for convenient, on-the-go wellness solutions, i.e., products that they can consume “in the gym, in the office, on the go and at night.” This includes protein drinks and nutrient dense snacks, as well as vitamin supplements in the form of gummies or jellies.
For Chinese consumers, prevention is better than cure
When it comes to health supplements, young Chinese consumers are sophisticated and well-educated. “Rather than generic solutions, they are looking for targeted solutions for immunity or bone health, for example, or probiotics with a range of benefits,” says Zhou. Consumers often compare the formula, dosage and ingredients of different overseas and Chinese brands to find the product that best fits their wellness goal. As a result, brands need to clearly market the specific functionalities and selling points of their products.
Compared to the UK, Chinese consumers are more likely to take supplements for prevention, rather than to cure existing conditions. As Zhou notes, the concept of yangsheng in traditional Chinese medicine, which can be loosely defined as a sort of holistic approach to self-care that targets the root causes of conditions rather than the symptoms, has always been influential in China. “While international brands have often struggled to find common ground with TCM, the current focus on wellness actually offers unique opportunities to tap into this cultural value within the Chinese market,” says Pearl Zhu, UK Sector Lead, Retail & E-Commerce, China-Britain Business Council.
Prevention is also the watchword in the skincare market, where anti-ageing products are not exclusively reserved for those of advancing years. “Chinese consumers are willing to invest in anti-ageing products from a younger age,” says Zhou, pointing to the popularity of products containing grape seeds or rose hips.
How to market wellness solutions in China
For Holland & Barrett, influencer marketing has been key to accessing the company’s target consumers. “We work with different influencers across different social platforms, with clear purposes for each collaboration. We make sure individual influencers have shared target consumers that are aligned with our brand positioning,” Zhou says. This targeted approach extends to e-commerce, where Holland & Barrett targets health-conscious affluent consumers in Guangdong, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Shanghai via cross-border e-commerce platform Tmall Global.
She cautions that healthcare brands need to think carefully about the positioning of their content, especially when introducing new products or products with technical formulations. “There needs to be a fine balance between hardcore educational brand content and light-hearted content that taps into social and cultural phenomena.”
Holland & Barrett has also seen success working with influencers who create British lifestyle content, taking advantage of the brand’s popularity among current or previously UK-based Chinese consumers, particularly students. “For Chinese consumers pursuing a British-style lifestyle, it may be one of only a few ways to experience a taste of the UK while China’s zero Covid policies are still in place.”