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The supplement industry has grown massively in China the past years and will continue to do so in the future. There are a number of outspoken reasons why this is the case, one thing is for sure, many companies have earned great profits by taking on the Chinese market.
But health supplements are edible and consumed by humans, which means that somewhat strict regulations apply. It’s important that you understand the import regulations and the exporting process beforehand.
In this article, I explain how you can start selling health supplements and vitamins in China.
Health supplement market in China
The health supplement market has grown much in China the past years, this is something you’ll see in other Asian countries as well, like Vietnam. And there are a number of reasons for that:
- As people get wealthier and the middle class grows, they start to appreciate fitness, personal care, buying equipment and interesting products that comes with it
- China has problems with food quality and air pollution, giving an incentive for people to spend some extra money on health supplements. Just quoting a Chinese friend I travelled with in China, he suddenly says: “You know, our air is so bad, so we need to drink a lot of green tea to compensate”
- A higher online presence and a bigger appreciation of a Western lifestyle and products are also big contributors why the health supplement market is growing. Ordering a box with vitamins from Australia is so much easier nowadays compared to a decade ago
- China has a problem with an aging population which drives the demand for health supplements
- Increased nutritional awareness
I like referring to personal experiences in my articles and I can say that I’ve personally witnessed how the fitness industry has evolved in China the last decade.
You can see gyms popping up here and there in places like Shanghai, people post many pictures while working out on applications like Wechat (China’s version of WhatsApp), the trend is obvious.
The larger companies have reaped the greatest yields. This is common in other industries as well, like with baby formula, where Danone and Nestle dominate. But even if the competition is high, you can earn great money if you use the right sales strategy (online platforms are popular nowadays) and market your products correctly.
Being able to take a small slice of that pie is probably a sufficient reason for you to engage in the market.
Be careful with your branding and also try to target a niche product, which can give you an advantage. Fighting with the big whales or where competition is fierce is the last thing you want to do as an SME.
Procedure when exporting health supplements and vitamins to China
It’s important that you understand the exporting process well in advance, before you ship your goods. Problems, or even rejection, at the customs can be highly cost some.
Below I’ve included a short summary of the process when exporting Whey protein to China:
1. Bilateral protocol between your country of manufacturing and China
The first thing you need to check is whether your country of manufacturing has a protocol signed with the Chinese government. Without one, you won’t be able to sell your products in China.
2. Register your company with AQSIQ and CNCA (CFDA)
I’ve already written a complete article about AQSIQ. This is the authority you normally need to register your company with, before you can start exporting. You also need to register with CNCA (Certification and Accreditation Administration).
3. Confirm what HS codes, GB standards and other national standards you need to comply with
HS codes are used to classify products traded in a country. Before you can even register your company, you need to know which HS codes are used for your products. You’ll also need to clearly specify the HS codes on your customs declaration, before the customs will let your products pass.
GB standards are similar to ISO standards used in the West and specifies information regarding labelling, product testing procedures, safety, usage and more. It’s crucial that you confirm what GB standards that apply to your products and provide documents where needed.
4. Labelling of your products
As mentioned, you need to make sure that you comply with Chinese local labelling requirements. You can do this by checking the GB standards that apply specifically for labelling (more about GB standards used later in this article).
Keep in mind that the labels should be translated into Chinese and attached to the products before shipment, or in a supervised warehouse before customs clearance.
5. Shipping your products
Whey protein concentrate has a long expiry date and the preferable choice, unless your volumes are very small, should be to ship your products with sea freight.
Confirm with your shipping partner what options they have, a reefer container might be needed.
6. Initial CIQ inspection before customs clearance
When your goods arrives at a harbour or airport in China, CIQ will do an initial inspection to confirm that you comply with local regulations, checking the labelling, packaging and documentation, just to mention a few.
When your goods has been approved by CIQ, you can proceed to the customs clearance.
7. Customs clearance
One of the most crucial parts is to pass the customs clearance, otherwise you’ll face that your products get seized or sent back, sometimes even demolished. To manage the customs, you need to prepare a number of documents in advance and receive a clearance slip from CIQ.
Documentation needed to pass the China customs
In order to pass the customs, you need to prepare a number of documents. Some of them include:
- Insurance policy
- Bill of lading
- Sales/trading contract
- Import quota certificate
- Phytosanitary, health or sanitary certificates (including benzoic acid-free certificate)
- Packing list
- Certificate of origin
- Proof that the why protein hasn’t been bleached
- Certificate of analysis
- Others where needed
Selling Whey protein concentrate in China
The consumption of milk is significantly lower in China compared to Western countries. This make the dairy industry fairly undeveloped, creating a “bad” cycle and a significantly increased demand for cheese, milk powder and not to forget, Whey protein.
The biggest exporters are undoubtedly the European Union, Northern America and Australia. Previous scandals and a lack of trust in local producers are worth mentioning as well.
Whey protein (which is used for bakeries and food products, among others) is in a slightly larger demand than Whey protein concentrate, which is normally consumed after a 1-2 hour workout.
If you ever visit cities like Beijing or Shanghai, you’ll notice that the fitness industry is becoming equally popular as in the West, with many ads for different protein powders at gyms and in stores.
GB standards for Whey protein
As mentioned above, it’s crucial that you find out what GB standards and HS codes that apply to your products. You can find GB standards and HS codes in a number of ways:
- By hiring a third party that can consult you on the matter
- Using online tools
- Check government websites
- Asking your importer for help
Below I’ve listed some of the most common GB standards used for Whey products.
GB 11674 2010
National food safety standard Whey powder and whey protein powder
SN/T 0635 1997
Rules for inspection of Whey powder for export and import
Maximum limits for contaminants in food
GB2760, GB 14880
Food additives and fortification
Selling vitamins in China
It’s not strange that the demand for vitamins increases, especially from overseas, as people get wealthier and a higher nutritional awareness.
While Whey protein is commonly used in formulas, fitness products and bakeries, vitamins are used by a lot of middle aged and elderly people as well.
Some of the most popular products are Calcium supplements, Vitamin C and Vitamin E, but there’s a big demand for other products as well, like fish oil, vitamin C and liver detox products.
The new Chinese food law and registration with the CFDA
Worth mentioning is that selling health food, such as vitamins, is not the easiest task on hand. China introduced the so called Food safety law of the People’s Republic of China (2015 version) which stipulates that you need to both register and file your products with the CFDA (China Food and Drug Administration). You need a Chinese agent helping you with the matter.
The process to register your brand and manage the licensing can take years. An easier option is to sell via cross border e-commerce, which removes a lot of the hurdles and allows you to sell your products directly.
Blackmores, a success story
A company that has succeeded selling vitamins in the Chinese market is the Australian brand Blackmore’s. With a reported annual sales of RMB 700 million (around USD 100 million) in 2017, they managed to increase their sales almost six fold, and double their profits, in just a year.
Blackmore’s is a living proof that e-commerce is the way to go in a world that becomes more digitized, especially in a country like China.
Which vitamins are in demand in China?
Vitamin E and C has seen a strong growth in China, mainly among females, due to the relation between vitamins and beauty.
We’ve seen the same trend in other products, like collagen, that’s highly appreciated, thanks to its healing and preserving function.
Can I sell health supplements and vitamins online?
Selling online, especially via cross border e-commerce has grown significantly in China the past years. Health supplements, like whey protein and vitamins, are not exceptions. As mentioned, doing it the traditional way can be both cost some and take years before you get permission to sell.
The two most popular online platforms that you should have a look at are:
Not only do major retailers bring in hundreds of millions in sales through these websites, SME’s also get a big share. Another website you should definitely have a look at is cnifit.com, which focuses on fitness products in China.
Setting up an online store is not a very easy task or cheap either, but you can get help from so called Tmall agents for example, who have established stores and can help you to get your product on the market.
Trade fairs for supplement products
Visiting a couple of fairs can be a wise choice, before you decide to engage in the Chinese market. It’s a great opportunity to understand the Chinese market and to meet with professionals who’s been in the market for years.
Below I’ve listed some of the biggest trade fairs for supplement products in China.
CIHIE (China International Nutrition & Health Industry)
CIHIE is a big trade show that focuses on a number of product categories, including nutrition and health food, healthcare products, beauty and slimming products and sugar free products, among others.
The fair is held annually in Beijing and is working on its 10th year.
FIBO is one of the largest fairs being held in China, in 2017, an impressing number of almost 21,000 visitors visited the fair, up from around 16,000 in 2016.
The fair focuses mainly on fitness products and you probably want to have a look at the Sports nutrition or the Wellness & Beauty segment.
HNC is said to be the most important trade fair for health supplements in Asia and attracts 20,000 visitors a time. The fair is held twice a year, in Shanghai in June and in Guangzhou in December.
Products on display include:
- Health food
- Traditional Chinese medicine
- Beauty products
- Health care
Visiting food fairs
You can also visit a number of food fairs to promote your products or to build up a network.
The biggest food fair in Asia is SIAL, which is also the 4th biggest food fair in the world. The show is held in May each year and attracts over 100,000 visitors.
Exporting health supplements is getting increasingly popular, especially via so called cross border e-commerce. A reason for that is to avoid lengthy and cost some processes, before you can start selling the traditional way.
C and E vitamins are in a big demand, mainly among females, thanks to the relation between these vitamins and preserved beauty. But you can also see a big demand for collagen and liver detox products, just to mention a few, the market is vast.
More and more Chinese become more exposed to Western culture and has started to take preventive measures to stay healthy, this is the standard when people become wealthier. The fitness industry also grows much and we see a big demand of Whey protein powder and other supplements.
The easiest way to get your products is definitely through so called cross border e-commerce, as this will help you to avoid the long certification procedures normally required.
If you want to know more about exporting health supplements to China, I recommend you to read the whole article.