The world’s most health conscious consumers just got another reason to keep in tip-top shape. The cost of falling ill in China became more expensive last year, with the healthcare component of China’s CPI basket: Western drugs, Chinese medicines, and medical services, rising almost 5% – the biggest annual growth in 20 years.
Whilst that may be good news for healthcare businesses, it’s another blow for consumers who face an increasingly grim outlook. Growing stress levels from urban living, sedentary lifestyles, processed food and of course pollution are contributing to unprecedented growth in cancer rates, obesity, gout, infertility, respiratory diseases and diabetes – which grew tenfold in a generation and is now higher than the US. Xiaomi’s pin-up VP, Hugo Barra, last month cited health as one of the main reasons for his departure from China.
Chinese consumers already spend a larger share of their wallet on healthcare than their Korean and Japanese cousins, but they aren’t just lying in the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff pumping themselves full of meds. Traditional values coupled with limited faith in the health system, government policy and increasing awareness and affluence is seeing Chinese consumers becoming ever-more proactive about their health.
Demand for health food is soaring, worth a hearty $29 billion a year, with nine out of ten Chinese drinking plant-based concoctions be it soybean drinks, juices or grain drinks according to Mintel. Chinese are also trading up to healthier versions of traditional foodstuffs with 30% or more prepared to pay a premium for better quality and typically healthier food items such as dairy, meat and seafood.
Fitness is another winner from the health drive, with the number of gym attendees across 70 cities growing around 4-5 million a year since 2011, and now estimated to be worth almost $6 billion a year.
It’s not just the products and services they’re buying, but also the media they’re consuming. You only need to look at WeChat, where posts about nutrition, healthy cooking and lifestyle tips remain some of the content most engaged with. Hashtags such as #fitness on Weibo are very trendy.
Yet just claiming your brand is ‘healthy’ is not enough. Inherently untrusting Chinese consumers seek strong qualification and often communications specifically relating to their concerns and stage in life, whether it be pregnant women, school kids or just young professional women anxious about ‘white collar’ illnesses. Some brands play cleverly on China’s fascination with association, such as California Walnuts whose brain health and development are a core component in promoting their brain-shaped nuts.
Like most things in China and everywhere, the most successful brands understand their target market and ensure their product, positioning, communications and channels are resonant with them. Agencies like China Skinny can assist with that. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.