On the road in China

Giant Shanghai ingredients show expresses Asia's healthy evolution

By Shane Starling in Shanghai

- Last updated on GMT

Giant Shanghai ingredients show expresses Asia's healthy evolution

Related tags: Dietary supplement, Us

For someone more acquainted with ingredients expos in Europe and the US, walking around the vast halls of Food Ingredients Asia-China (FIC) in Shanghai today made me realise what a small percentage of the continent's nutrients industry fills those shows' ‘Asian pavillions'.

There are more than 800 mostly Chinese exhibitors at FIC this year, in a show split between ‘regular’ food ingredients, natural and healthy offerings and expected to be visited by more than 40,000 people.

Many of them offer similar bulk commodity or herbal extract portfolios that tend to compete in global markets firstly and foremostly on price.

But also noticeable is increasingly sophisticated nutritional portfolios offering the likes of omega-3s, nutritional enzymes, probiotics, superfruit extracts along with refined marketing around vitamins and minerals.

FIC is co-hosted with pharmaceutical ingredients and manufacturing event – CPhI-China – and it was interesting to see the number of firms offering vitamins and minerals to that sector – alongside APIs. The abundance of science around most vitamins and minerals and the seemingly stable demand for them, means they are often pharma-like status.

There is also an end-product hall devoted to ‘Natural and Nutraceutical Products’ which didn’t stop ingredient suppliers like Norwegian krill player Aker Biomarine exhibiting there, with business development VP, Tim de Haas, noting the day-one response to its oils and capsules had exceeded expectations, even as it awaits official approval from Chinese authorities for its Superba-branded krill offerings.

The hall contained every kind of food supplement you could imagine from straight multivitamins to Traditional Chinese Medicines to exotic blends, green powders, high-dose lipid formulations and more.

Quality, growth, price, sex toys

Also there was Chinese market veteran Jeff Crowther, the CEO and executive director of the US-China Health Products Association, a group he established a couple of years ago soon after the US Natural Products Association pulled the pin on their Asian operation he had been running for four years.

He agreed that many Chinese suppliers, not to mention manufacturers, had gone to new quality control and branding levels, especially those seeking to grow markets outside of China or their respective Asian homebase. Celebrity endorsements, mega-stands and refined lifestage marketing were not isolated on the showfloor.

“The bigger Chinese suppliers know they have to meet western Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) if they are to compete there, there are many programmes that can assess GMPs like the ones we and our partners offer, and that quality improvement is matched with smarter marketing,” ​he said.

“But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of companies that remain that aren’t interested in any of that stuff – both buyers and sellers – for them it is still about the cheapest price and quality comes a distant second.”

“You especially see that at other shows in China where criteria for exhibitors is much less regulated and so you get all kinds of wild stuff on offer including sex toys because for many Chinese these are health products like any other. This show is much stricter on who can exhibit here.”

Crowther, a US national but Chinese resident for seven years, is also presenting in the education programme, sharing information with local players about what it takes to succeed in the US market.

Another European company in the finished products section was Swedish probiotic specialist BioGaia – hoping three days was long enough to sign a Chinese distribution deal for its own-brand chewable probiotic tablets. 

The education programme includes streams on food safety, regulations, emerging versus emerged markets and e-marketing.

The Chinese food supplements market is valued at around €10bn although the existence of a large grey market means estimates vary widely.

FoodNavigator-Asia and NutraIngredients will be at the show all week. If you'd like to get in touch, you can write to shane.starling'at'wrbm.com. We'd love to hear from you.

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