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How COVID is shaping Chinese consumer mind-set and how businesses should respond

Covid-19 is changing the health landscape on a global level; China is no exception.

From an institutional and technological perspective, digitalised health care has played a pivotal role in epidemic prevention and control thanks to its contactless nature. From an individual perspective, pandemic-induced disruption to traditional health beliefs is manifesting across three key areas; perceptions of what constitutes a healthy diet, the migration from symptom relief to holistic health, and the shift to managing one’s health at home.

Healthy diet perceptions: There is growing awareness of the importance of protein in people’s diets – of the top 10 performing brands on Single’s Day 2020, 5 had protein-based products as their top seller. At the peak of the pandemic, a leading Chinese medical expert was trolled by web users for recommending high protein diets over traditional Chinese “health” foods (such as congee). Despite his recommendation being unpopular (it was initially labeled as ‘崇洋媚外’ or ‘fawning to foreigners’), rapid intervention and support from major state and local media outlets has reinforced a now increasingly accepted understanding of the importance of high-protein diets to immunity.

“The pre-Covid trend of using laxative / absorption-prevention weight-loss methods has also declined, spurring a rise in demand for healthy meal and snack replacement products.”

Holistic health: Consumers are responding to health concerns with a greater focus on holistic methods, rather than superficial treatments. Over the recent Single’s Day shopping festival, JD Health Data registered high sales growth across three main supplement products: “Anti-oxidation” (+250%), “Strengthen Immunity” (+91%), and “Bone health” (+95%). The pre-Covid trend of using laxative / absorption-prevention weight-loss methods has also declined, spurring a rise in demand for healthy meal and snack replacement products (the market for meal replacements is forecast to reach 120Bn RMB / c. 13.6Bn GBP by 2022). Examples such as these demonstrate an overall trend where consumers who still seek solutions for the same health concern (be it skincare or weight management) are looking to new methods that simultaneously safeguard their longer-term health.

Home-based health: The home has become the main setting for new health-related products. JD Health launched a “Family Care Initiative” in 2020, which provides products and services developed for use at the home. As an example of this, home-use blood glucose meters (300%+), ventilators (130%+) and sphygmomanometers (120%+) were the top 3 best selling products amongst all medical equipment during the latest Single’s Day shopping festival.

Disruption to traditional health beliefs, growing consumer awareness for health management and growing levels of disposable income are creating new opportunities for consumer health brands seeking high growth opportunities in China.