Supplement market booms as Koreans seek perfect health
A 44-year-old office worker takes probiotic, blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering pills every morning. While having breakfast, he also takes three vitamin C pills, milk thistle and lutein. He then takes krill oil capsules and brewer’s yeast pills.
While having lunch and dinner, he again takes three vitamin C pills and brewer’s yeast pills. He takes one more vitamin pill right before he goes to bed. In total, he ingests 10,000 milligrams of Vitamin C per a day.
“I got a health check-up in August and was very shocked with the results,” he said. “Since then, I started taking mega dosages of vitamin C.”
“I got another health check-up again this January, and the result was unbelievably good. Doctor even asked me what I have been doing. No matter what others say, I will continue taking lots of health supplements like this.”
Health supplement market is booming as more Koreans have become very concerned about their health. It’s no exaggeration to say that taking health supplements has become a part of people’s daily lives just like eating, exercising and traveling.
Health supplements were seen as being for old people in the past—but not anymore.
The scientific evidence of the benefits of vitamins and other supplements is mixed, and in some cases certain vitamins can be toxic at high doses. Purity can also be an issue, as unscrupulous manufacturers will often get into the market using substandard materials and ingredients.
According to a poll conducted by Embrain, a market research firm, some 84.5 percent of 1,000 respondents said they have been taking health supplements. By age group, over 90 percent of respondents in their 40s and 50s said they have been taking health supplements, while some 80 percent of people in their 20s and 30s said they have been taking health supplements. Surprisingly, some 68 percent of teen respondents said they are taking health supplements.
The size of health supplement market was around 3.56 trillion won ($3.18 billion) in 2016 and rose to some 4.98 trillion won last year, according to Korea Health Supplements Association. The association estimates that the market size is likely to exceed 25 trillion won by 2030.
“Especially after the coronavirus outbreak, all my friends and acquaintances say ‘immunizability’ is the one and only way to survive,” Baek Ji-woo, a woman in her 30s, said. “When I spend money on buying health supplements, I don’t feel bad as purchasing bags or clothes as I feel like I’m investing for my own good.”
Baek also said she and her friends downloaded an app called Chlngers to keep track of her daily life and not forget to take health supplement pills every day.
According to CJ Olive Young, a beauty and healthy retailer, health supplements purchases by people in their 20s and 30s rose by 32 percent last year compared to a year earlier.
“Probiotics and red ginseng were the two most popular health supplements in the past, but as more young people started showing interest in taking care of their health, various supplement products, including collagen, hyaluronic acid and multivitamins are booming these days,” said a spokesperson for Olive Young. “Young people tend to spend more money buying health supplements even though they are expensive. We are looking forward to doubling the sales of health supplements by 2023.”
The variety also increased.
The number of types of health supplements was 12,495 in 2012 but doubled to 26,342 in 2019, according to Ministry of Food and Drug Safety.
“Besides steady sellers such as red ginseng and vitamins, many new health supplements are entering to the market,” said Kim Min-soo, a merchandiser at Lotte Homeshopping’s health supplements team. “This year, skin-related supplements such as collagen are gaining popularity.”
Influencers who are popular on social media play a role in the recent boom in health supplement market.
In a survey by Opensurvey of 1,000 respondents, some 47.9 percent said they purchased health supplements through online shopping platforms. The number is 82.2 percent when only considering people in their 30s.
Roughly 29 percent of respondents said the most reliable source to collect information about health supplements is net surfing, while some 26.7 percent said recommendations from family, friends and acquaintances. A full 6.9 percent said they get information from online communities.
“I started taking enzymes since an influencer who I follow on Instagram recommended it,” Um Sul-ki, 33, said. “Although the influencer is not a medical expert, her recommendation was reliable since she shared her story taking the supplements and how it changed her health in positive ways.”
As demand rises, companies are scrambling to jump into health supplement market in order to attract more possible customers.
Pulmuone Health & Living in July began offering a “perpack” service to customers, which allows people to have personal consultations with experts and customize their own health supplements depending on their health conditions. The supplements are packed separately in small volumes so that people can take them easily every day.
Earlier the year, Amway Korea introduced a similar customized-health supplements service “My Pack by Nutrilite.”
GNC Korea, which allows customers to have a genetic test to customize their health supplement products, increased the checklist items to 50 from 14.
Lotte Mart said it has sought to trademark Viva Health Market and is currently in discussions to start a health supplements business.
“With the Covid-19 outbreak, the interest in health supplements has been expanding into various sectors, not only immunity but also eyes, hair, skin and bones,” said Kang Baek-joon, a spokesperson for Amway Korea. “Although the health supplement market in Korea is just at the beginning stage now, it will be expanded further in the future.”
Experts acknowledge the necessity of health supplements but also note the possibility of supplement abuse may.
“Drug abuse is very serious issue in Korea,” said Jang Ji-na, CEO of Ayak, an online platform that helps people to find suitable pharmacists. “Health supplements have fewer side effects than drugs, but it is essential for people, especially those who have diseases, to check in advance if it is okay to take medical drugs and health supplements at the same time.”
Kang Jae-heon, a Kangbuk Samsung Hospital doctor, agrees with Jang.
“Many scholars agree that health supplements are good for people who are suffering due to lack of vitamins,” Kang said. “But I recommend them not to be attracted by advertisements or influencers, but properly check with what functions the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety recognized them as health supplements.”
BY LEE SO-A, BAE JEONG-WON, YOO JI-YOEN AND CHEA SARAH [firstname.lastname@example.org]