Growth Opportunities in Women’s Health in China

26 Oct 2015|dimitropoulosp

China’s healthcare market has witnessed rapid growth in recent years as the urbanization and expansion of China’s economy, growing income levels, and better access to treatments and products continues to change. At the same, increased health concerns, food contamination and higher levels of stress among the Chinese urban workforce have started to open up new opportunities for foreign companies in the market. As the Chinese economy continues to evolve brands have started to identify women as an increasingly important consumer segment, especially in the area of health and wellness. Traditionally, in China’s male dominated society, the needs of men typically received the most attention, however, over the years as women have become more independent and empowered, they are increasingly seeking products and activities that specifically cater to their needs, following the latest fashion trends and being inspired by other women especially in mainstream media and culture. As a result, Chinese women have developed a much stronger desire overall to look and feel good.

Throughout history Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and physical exercises such as T’ai Chi have had a profound impact on the way that Chinese women think about health and products. Today, Chinese women now also have access to a growing number of important products including dietary supplements, cosmetics, gyms and fitness clubs, spas and private hospitals. They are also being continually exposed to online and offline media that all place a strong emphasis on women’s health and well-being. Chinese women aspire to the same health standards as the rest of the world and they have a lot more cultural inspirations to draw from. Both ancient and modern culture now plays a key part in influencing a women’s understanding about health as well as their purchasing habits.

A number of recent studies have shown that Chinese are now eating a healthier diet and exercising more often, especially among consumers of ages 25-34 (up 36 percent since 2012) and 35-44 (up 32 percent) and one significant proportion of this is Chinese women. The desire to maintain good health and to keep in shape has become more apparent than ever before. Women in China are becoming more independent, affluent and sophisticated, which has subsequently led them to be more conscious about the food they eat and exercise they need. Over the last few years there has been a shift towards women in China exercising more, eating healthier and being more willing to pay more for special products like organic food or nutritional supplements. Women are now spending a lot more on health supplements such as vitamins, fish oil and collagen pills, as well as pre-natal and slimming products. They are also participating more regularly in sports and moving towards a more active and healthier lifestyle.

Some of the most important macro drivers of change on women’s lives during the last few years include the accumulation of wealth, a continuous advancement of digital and smart technology, stronger exposure to foreign cultures, ideas and lifestyles, and the growing awareness of deteriorating environmental conditions. Nike has been a pioneer in responding to the modern, health conscious woman by opening female exclusive stores in Shanghai and Chengdu to encourage more health centered activities. Nike go the extra mile with this female focused initiative, offering specialized training sessions that are supported by their mobile APP. Technology is rapidly becoming a popular platform to share health-related information, and anchor health awareness, especially among women. Dayima (APP) for example, helps women monitor their menstrual cycle and symptoms. Dayima recently collaborated with the breast cancer charity organization Pink Ribbon to organize events and forums to educate women about cancer prevention.

Another trend that reinforces the importance of health to the modern Chinese woman can be seen in their choice of leisure activities. To escape the city’s busy work and life pressures, women are opting for nature based retreats which allow them to reconnect with themselves and relax in a clean, detoxing environment while engaging in restorative activities such as yoga, nature walking or spa visits. Women are also increasingly active when it comes to fitness and sports.

Data from CTR China National Resident Survey (CNRS-TGI)

There has been a strong increase in the popularity of running among Chinese women with more than 80% taking up the activity between 2012 and 2014. Running has now risen to the second most practiced sport, behind badminton which remains relatively popular among most age groups despite showing recent signs of decline. This is also partly due to the recent increase of new activities such as the rising popularity of yoga, an activity which is typically favored by women more than men in China. Its growth suggests that women alone are significantly influencing the landscape of certain activities and also supports the concept that women prefer to engage in activities which focus more on restoration and relaxation. The proportion of women exercising between 3–5 times per week has also shown significant positive growth over the last 2 years and is reflective of the heightened awareness of the overall importance of health and fitness. These figures reinforce the increasing inclinations for Chinese people, and women in particular, to invest their time and money into the health and fitness category.

In a rapid social-economic development context, Chinese woman increasingly have the freedom to choose the way they live their lives. This shift towards health consciousness demonstrates the growing independence of the modern female. Marketing and branding professionals need to stay on their toes and look at new ways in which to attract female consumers. One important area which until now has been underestimated is culture. Semiotics is a skilled cultural advisor helping brands construct an effective and relevant Cultural Selling Proposition (CSP) to the female population in China and elevate themselves into cultural icons. Brand communication becomes an end in itself acquiring autonomous character and unique cultural significance that affects not only content, but also online and offline media. Semiotics can become a multifunctional tool for a diagnosis, discovery, strategy formulation, creative execution and innovation all in one. Smart brands must leverage these new tools in order to appeal to the new wave of health-conscious female consumers.

“Written by Panos Dimitropoulos, Account Director of Cultural Insight, and Sam Woollard, Client Development Director, with support from the Added Value China team.”

*All data collected from: CTR China National Resident Survey

Contact: Added Value Shanghai Office, T: +86 (21) 3612 6666, Email:

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