Vitafoods Insights is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

EU guidelines aid in navigating regulatory hurdles of exporting health foods to China

Article-EU guidelines aid in navigating regulatory hurdles of exporting health foods to China

© iStock/Baona EU guidelines aid in navigating regulatory hurdles of exporting health foods to China
A new report outlines the challenges and considerations for EU companies exporting health food to China – currently the second-largest health food market globally after the US.

The report, produced by the EU SME Centre, outlines the defined segments of the Chinese health supplement market that mirror current consumer trends seen in Europe and the US.

“For the young urbanites, health food functions as a nutritional substitute but is also consumed for purposes of rejuvenation, slimming, and maintaining health,” the report stated. “For the elderly, health food is a means to increase immunity and improve health. Another major target audience is the maternal and baby health food market, for women increasing their nutritional consumption during pregnancy.”

Cross-Border E-Commerce: The entry strategy of choice for EU brands 

The report also looks at the country’s market access requirements for imported health food, in which EU-based companies involved in general trade must follow a two-step procedure for imported products.

The first step involves product notification and/or registration with China’s State Administration of Market Regulation (SAMR) database – a resource that records all applications on food safety, trademarks, and patents.

Additionally, all overseas establishments that produce, process, or store any type of food and beverage product to be exported to China must register with the General Administration of Customs of the People's Republic of China (GACC).

“The process is lengthy, costly, and complex, and may require several years to complete,” the report stated. “For this reason, many foreign brands choose Cross-Border E-Commerce as [the] main market entry strategy for the Chinese market.”

Germany identified as one of the top health food exporters of health foods to China

The sheer difficulty in exporting to China may explain why only Germany was identified as one of the top health food exporters of health foods to China in 2022, importing €534 million worth of these foods.

According to a report by the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Medicines and Health Products (CCCMHPIE), the country was outshone by the US (€1.13 billion) and Australia (€755m) but surpassed Indonesia (€414m) and Japan (€286m) in terms of export value.

The EU SME Centre’s publication comes at a time when China’s customs agencies have increased scrutiny of imported food products due the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen a heightened interest in health food products, particularly those for the immune system.

The new regulations update the obligations of food exports to China, such as overseas facilities registration, record filing by importers and exporters, quarantine and inspection, and product labelling, among others.

Other measures, which together came into effect on 1 January 2022, include requirements for Chinese food importers to guarantee food safety and shores up re-inspection permissions of food producers and traders.

Immune support the most popular benefit claim in 2023

Despite stricter controls, the EU SME Centre reveals that the health food market has registered a 60% growth in the country between 2016 and 2023, to become the second-largest health food market globally after the United States.

Figures indicate that China grabbed an 18% share of global sales with a projected market value of around €28.94bn (RMB 219.7bn) by the end of 2023. Data from the SAMR database revealed that “immune support” was the most popular benefit claim among health foods marketed in China through the registration route in 2023.

As many as 42% of health foods have made immune support claims, according to the SAMR database, with claims a product “helps to alleviate physical fatigue” the next in popularity (16%). Health claims for products that “help support reduction in blood lipids” (5%) and “help improve sleep and increase bone density” (4.4%) claimed the third and fourth spot in popularity of claims.