European expats in China are strong potential consumers for the imported natural cosmetics market. Discover why it is worth it to target these consumers and export your natural products in China :

Those expats who adopt a healthy lifestyle


healthy life food

Faced with their sedentary lifestyle, impacted by the air pollution and pressure at work, more and more Europeans are turning to a healthier lifestyle for themselves and their environment. They eat organic food and gluten free, they often go to salad bars to counter fast foods. They adopt natural biodegradable cosmetics and prefer relying on homeopathy rather than on antibiotics.

These European expats who emigrate to major cities in China find themselves facing an even higher pollution rate and even more sedentary lifestyle due to the long subway distances, two elements that do not facilitate the practice of in-and-outdoor activities. Of course, they want to keep their healthy lifestyle and then face a problem : the natural health care market in China is far from being equal to the one in Europe.

The problem of bio label in China

Organic has grown strongly in China, a turning point that cosmetics brands have not missed. A mixed development, however, as China does not exercise strict quality controls.

Bio label means very little about Chinese products, for the simple reason that fake organic, sold just as expensive, is very widespread. Taking the example of fruits : a farmer can decide to produce one year organic food to obtain a label, then stop his organic production the following year in order to reduce costs, while continuing to exploit his label for sale. It can also label a single product in its range but sell all its production under its organic certification, without sufficient control over the respect of the procedure.

 Natural cosmetics invisible on the market

organic cosmetics China

Of course, there is a supermarket department for cosmetics with olive oil, snail cosmetics and donkey milk, but the quality guarantees and origin of these products remain unclear. Nothing is easier than finding a coconut flavoured hand cream : the package will carry an organic mention without further explanation. Are we going to look for a vegetable oil of organic coconut first cold pressed, is our search likely to drag on.
These concepts based on natural products have so far not seen their virtues recognized by the Chinese consumer market.

Naturally treat your ailments, an obstacle course

essential oil

The first unpleasantness experienced by expatriates in China are concretely diarrhea, sore throat and cough caused by air pollution, which is very difficult to get rid of in winter.

Certainly, China is very strong in ancestral medicinal remedies, whose effectiveness amazes each new expatriate. What a disappointment however for the natural products fan, who wanted to cure his angina with a green clay poultice, finding herself in front of a stunned saleswoman with only get pre-cut whitening masks on the shelves. In China, collagen is touted as the ideal ingredient in facial care, while Europe is sounding the alarm on its derivative use.

As for its natural yogurt without added sugar for a homemade mask, it is necessary to go around the shelf three times before finding a reliable dairy, most likely imported and extremely expensive.

Expats in China want quality guarantees

Faced with fake organic cosmetics, expatriates fear intolerance to certain substances that will create allergies and irritation until skin cancer. It is difficult to get recommendation for a good address of reliable products while the market for natural cosmetics is so tenuous.

Expats are very worried about quality : the products must be free of whitening agents, a real challenge in China where white skin is a beauty criterion for men as well as women.
Same reluctance for dietary supplements : before buying maca powder or goji berry in China, expatriates keep in mind the biggest food scandals of recent years with fake cadmium rice and melamine milk.

Expatriates need reliability. They want imported organic products guaranteed by worldwide recognized labels. Some products are actually sold in some import supermarkets, but their presence is not visible enough.
They are very wary and will seek above all the well-known quality recognized by themselves or other expats. As such, social media of mutual help between expatriates swarm with good advices: Facebook pages and WeChat groups, if you want to make your natural products known by expatriates, you must first of all prospect on these social networks.

How to make sure China will be a good market for my imported natural products?

social networks China

Expatriates who choose natural cosmetics face several difficulties: the lack of visibility of certified natural products on the Chinese market, the cost of a plane ticket to provide cosmetics in their country of origin and finally the customs restrictions about luggage size, but also on allowed content for export.
The virtual absence of true natural products in China generates traffic between expatriates. Coconut oil from Morocco, eye drop from Japan, Australian cosmetics … But this traffic is neither reassuring – due to customs – nor satisfactory. Finding high-quality imported products at the nearest supermarket would save considerable time and energy for all the healthier in major Chinese cities.

How to create an attractive package for Chinese AND expatriates

The main obstacle for expatriates when shopping: language barrier, which should not be underestimated. Chinese medicines and cosmetics will culturally favour garish packaging with full-size scripting, indicating their product content and usage.
Europeans largely prefer an image explicitly showing the product content and its texture. They will be receptive to a symbol representing the taste and smell of the product, for example a yellow flower for vanilla taste. Chinese medicine leaflets are rarely translated into English … Expats are therefore not confident at all when they cannot be sure about the properties of their new belongings.

The right price challenge

Natural products have an expensive production making their price high. In addition come the exporting cost. The total cost of these products can be a drag on buyers; if it is too high, even expatriates will not have the means to buy, because their salary in Asia is lower than in Europe. If the product sells at a price too low compared to its cost in Europe, expats will be sceptical: they will think that junk might replace the real product under the package.

How to amortize my production costs without losing my clientele?


The ideal would be to find the nearest supplier: Australia, New Zealand or even the farmer areas of China. Decreasing export distances would already reduce costs. China is such a large country, there are necessarily Chinese producers and distributors who would be interested for developing this new market.
Your products need to be doubly marketable: for Western customers – very sensitive to organic and quality – and Chinese customers who are just opening up to this Western fashion.

You need to explain very openly on the packaging of the product that the price is more advantageous than the same products sold in Europe thanks to the suppliers’ proximity. Healthy products lovers are very sensitive to the carbon footprint of imported products. Limiting the pollution of international transportation will attract approval.

In addition, products must be certified by internationally recognized labels. Labeling is expensive, but it will pay off with the trust that consumers will give to your brand. The result will be the spread on social networks and expatriate self-aid groups: you’re ensuring your excellent e-reputation.

 These products that expats are looking for

natural products

Let’s give you some help : what are the cosmetics & dietary supplements that our natural care lover would dream to find at the organic supermarket in China, all products gathered at the same place?

– Vegetable oils 100% extra virgin, first cold pressed.
– Essential oils.
– Aloe Vera gel, from organic farming and paraben free.
Maca powder certified from Peru
– soap from first cold saponification (soap making process)
– Undiluted floral waters and paraben free misting
– Clay for masks & poultices
– Lip balms of biological origin
Honey from organic farming

Do not forget to leave a shelve for traditional Chinese medicine; Expats do love Tiger Balm, which is starting to sell in Europe.
Goji berries and Ginseng, new trends that are raging in Europe, are extremely easy to find in China, no need then to compete.

What you should remember about expat’s needs

  • Expats are looking for cosmetics and organic food supplements, but reliable brands lack of visibility because the market is drowned in fake bio. The products’ quality is their first concern, especially cosmetics containing whiteners or others substances harmful to health.
  • Expats want to consume healthy products, especially when living in polluted cities, but they are reluctant to Chinese brands because of some food scandals that have been etched in their minds.

 Three key points to market natural cosmetics in China

  • The products must absolutely get an optimal double-translation in English and Chinese to reach your two targets : expatriates and Chinese consumers. Every civilization has its own notion of the appearance that a reliable product must have. It is necessary to adapt the package to what visually will reassure the two markets: an explicit image about the product content, then explanations in Chinese detailing the product and its use.
  • You must be active on social networks and especially on the pages of expats’ mutual aid to reach your target customers. Expatriate self-help groups work with personal advices. But beware, these groups punish advertisements; you must put yourself as a contributing member of the community, not a spammer.
  • Although expensive, obtaining an International Label certifying the quality of your product will then be profitable with the confidence you will give to your consumers.

 Need help for your digital communication?

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COSLYS is a French, high-end organic cosmetics brand. Their product range covers hair, skin, body and baby lotions. The raw materials they use are extracted from natural, organic plants from their privately owned farms.

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