A Lululemon-sponsored yoga event in Shanghai. (Facebook/Lululemon)
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While a high-end handbag or watch remains a potent status symbol in China, a growing contingent of Chinese consumers is starting to prioritize spending on the ultimate luxury: their health.
According to a Boston Consulting Group survey released last week, in the year ahead middle-class and affluent Chinese consumers plan to up their spending on “health and wellness” items (as opposed to luxury goods), as well as “organic or fresh fruits, meats and vegetables, and baby-related products.”
The growth of the health and wellness industry is a global phenomenon, with some luxury experts worried that it will pose greater competition to traditional luxury goods, especially among health-conscious millennials. Thanks to China’s smog-choked cities and numerous food safety issues, Chinese consumers have become acutely aware of the importance of health, and shown a willingness to pay a premium for products they see as beneficial or safe. (A fact well known to everyone from exclusive private hospitals in Los Angeles to GNC stores in Hong Kong.)
As many foreign food companies have learned, Chinese consumers have been more than willing to shell out for food items with trustworthy cleanliness and safety—exemplified by the imported baby formula boom of 2008-9, which has only recently begun to level off.
In addition to increased demand for imported food, a study from Euromonitor found that as the health and wellness industry grew in 2014, consumers also turned “to fresh products, such as fruit juice or self-prepared nutritious food.” Any visitor to Beijing's more affluent areas will see no shortage of restaurants like Element Fresh and Tribe, catering to an organically minded clientele.
In addition to healthy food products, global “ath-leisure” companies are moving in on the China market as consumers gain a growing interest in fitness. On June 19, yoga wear giant Lululemon debuted its first Asia store in Hong Kong, a move preceded by the launch of a new e-commerce platform for home-grown Hong Kong fitness and yoga chain Pure as well as two Adidas stores in April. Further mainland China expansion is in the works—Lululemon already has a Shanghai showroom, while Pure is planning on expansion to Shanghai.
Concerned with the quality of domestic medical care and medicine, many Chinese consumers are also spending more on medical tourism. While middle-class and affluent travelers head to nearby South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore, the ultra-rich often head even further to get medical treatment in Europe and North America. The services requested range from simple checkups and prescription fillings to "maternity tourism" and surgical procedures—including a booming market for plastic surgery. Chinese travelers also buy over-the-counter medicine and supplements on their trips, which is why it’s common to find them stocking up on thousands of dollars in vitamins and fish oil (in addition to leather goods and alcohol) at duty-free shops around the world.