Health has been one of the core themes in China’s consumer landscape over the past few years. Anyone who understands Chinese consumers’ approach to health will appreciate the unity based on the opposing and complementary relations of the yin and yang. A pillar of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) beliefs, the yin and yang need to be in harmony – when one aspect is deficient, the other is in excess.
Many consumers’ health, food and lifestyle decisions are based on maintaining this balance – this ensures a normal flow of qi so their body functions well and they can recover from illness more easily. Whilst people are increasingly living longer in China, partially due to advancements in modern medicine, the ancient TCM beliefs still hold significant importance for consumers. Many factors disrupting that harmony have only become an issue over the past generation.
We only need to look at the scary growth in breast cancer rates in Chinese women to understand how the yin and yang have been knocked off balance. Breast cancer has become the most common cancer among women in China with rates climbing 3.5% annually between 2000 and 2013, versus a 0.4% annual drop in the US. Much of the growth can be attributed to a generation of changes in Chinese lifestyles, such as urbanisation and an increase in professional work. This has led to lower childbearing rates and older mothers at birth, with a subsequent aversion to breastfeeding. Higher stress, less exercise, more unhealthy diets and increased alcohol consumption are also contributing. Each of these factors are common in many countries, but the rate and extremity of change has been much more dramatic in China.
Common household salt has been another factor disrupting the qi flow. On average Chinese eat more than double the recommended intake of salt. This is also a problem in many countries, the difference is 80% of consumption is attributable to Chinese consumers’ own cooking, whereas in the West it mainly comes from processed foods. The list of contributors goes on, as do their differences from other countries.
To help find balance, Chinese are increasingly making conscious decisions to consume healthy food and vitamins, in addition to doing more activities based on healthiness. The most popular of those is jogging. Interestingly, numerous studies have found the negative effects of exercising in pollution outweigh the benefits. This has done little to temper the enthusiasm of joggers in Chinese cities and their paraphernalia.
Many of the factors affecting consumers’ yin and yang balance are attributable to their lifestyle and dietary choices, however a number remain out of control of the average urban dweller. Air pollution may be the most visible, yet the water and soil pollution are often much more damaging to the balance and harder to restore. According to a national soil survey, one-fifth of farmland in China is contaminated by organic and inorganic chemical pollutants and by metals such as lead, cadmium and arsenic, with the most polluted areas concentrated around the wealthy cities where a large share of their food is grown. Unfortunately a paddock growing rice in soil oozing with cadmium seepage and irrigated with toxic water still often looks like a normal green rice paddy, making it harder to manage and resolve. Even the remarkable rise of meal delivery in China is contributing to waste that is affecting the food supply chain and consequent balance.
These influences have been a boon for foreign brands who are often perceived as healthier. Yet every brand trading on health and purity would be wise to understand how the yin and yang, and hot and cold fit into many consumers’ consideration set. Agencies such as China Skinny can assist with your new product development, your brand and positioning to ensure this is considered and relevant to Chinese consumers. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.