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Industry Focus: The Growing Demand for Infant and Young Children Nutritional Supplements

In recent years, Chinese young mothers especially those in tier-1st and 2nd have become increasingly concerned about the adequacy of their child’s diet to supply the micronutrients essential to foster optimal growth and development. Improvements in consumer dietary education backed by high level government policies has pushed the previously esoteric subject of infant nutrition into the public domain and is precipitating a concomitant increase in interest and demand for infant and toddler nutritional supplements. High level government policies calling for a reduction in dietary related eyesight deficiencies and calls for an increase in breastfeeding rates are fueling interest in products like iron fortified infant foods (we know that infant iron supplies start to run out around 4 months post-partum and that breastmilk is a poor source of iron) and vitamin A and lutein fortified foods (for eyesight).

In the private sector the popularity of social media channels providing nutritional information is also fueling demand in the sector which when combined with advances in trade channels e.g. the continuing developing of cross-border ecommerce (CBEC) is giving Chinese consumers access to an unprecedented volume of information and an unprecedented variety of nutrient supplements sourced from highly reputable manufacturers from around the world. When it comes to infant nutrition in China, unsurprisingly the highly lucrative infant formula sector continues to grab all the headlines primarily due to its sheer scale and profitability, however, in comparison infant and young children nutritional supplements represents an under-exploited segment offering huge opportunities.

From a regulatory standpoint infant and young children nutritional supplements are usually categorized as either health foods or pharmaceutical drugs depending on the labeling claims used and some other factors, although there are some other routes to market such as foods for special medical purposes, foods for special dietary purposes and fortified general foods.

According to Nielsen, in 2017 42% of parents purchased nutritional supplements for the first time when their baby was 0-3 months old, and in 2018 this figure increased to 48%. More than 68% of infants and young children aged 0-6y have taken nutritional supplements.

Additionally, more than 90% of mom and baby stores sold nutritional supplements in 2018. On the Tmall & Taobao platform, the market size of Infant and young children nutritional supplements in January to May 2019 was second only to infant formula in the infant foods sector , which accounted for 14.65% of all sales (aggregate of all infant/children food including infant formula, supplements, complementary food for infants, milk powder etc.), while complementary food for infants accounted for 9.78% of all sales.

The sales volume of many Chinese enterprises in the infant nutrition business sector demonstrates a sustained upward growth trajectory. For example:

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