With Australia's domestic market maturing, many complementary health companies are seeing the growth that some of the big brands are enjoying in Asia and are keen to ride in on their coat tails.
This is according to Ian Chant, managing director of TSI Pharmaceutical, a multinational Australian company that supplies and packages an extensive range of non-scheduled, complementary, listed and registered products.
Through TSI’s experience in overseas markets, and as a result of Chant’s role as a board member of Complementary Medicines Australia, for whom he works on industry development and export initiatives for the Australian companies, the company is in a good position to advise its customers on how to realise their Asian ambitions.
It pays to be wary, but give it a go
“When we talk to them about opportunities, and we know a little bit about these markets. As a result, they become quite excited,” he told FoodNavigator-Asia from Brisbane.
“In this industry, Australians are very internally focused, and they don’t realise the assets they have in terms of safety and the regulatory environment — all the pluses the Australian manufacturing environment gives them.”
Daunted by the vagaries of the Asian markets, Chant says, many Australian companies tend to put their plans on hold after some initial research. But once they see their competitors enjoying success overseas, they come back to TSI for more advice.
“They start saying, ‘gee, it’s not a bad idea after all’. They have to understand the markets to some extent, and some of these markets can be segmented, so the opportunities are definitely there for companies to go into just one part of the market, and not necessarily all of it.
“Understanding the market presents a tremendous advantage, though a lot of brand owners at the moment don’t recognise or understand fully what it on their doorstep.”
Demand for Down Under medicines
Chant says that Chinese consumers are calling out for Westernised medicines—something that can be seen at Australian duty free shops, for instance, where Chinese often pick up healthcare products as gifts on the way back home.
“There are a number of brands in China that are westernised, like Amway. I do believe there is a positive attitude towards Westernised medicine, however the regulations in Asia have perhaps not kept pace with the changing consumer demand.
“We’re starting to see right now the Chinese health authorities starting to review the regulatory framework. I’m not saying it’s necessarily going to deliver a great windfall for Westernised medicines, but there is a consideration about it. And I believe the concept of medical foods is also being developed in China.”
Chant says it is the uncertainty, more than the cost of gaining regulatory approval, that is holding Australian companies back from Asian expansion.
“We don’t know if their regulations sill be in place in 12 months’ time. I don’t think anybody has problems paying the price, as long as that’s going to be the framework for a longer period.
“There has been a reasonable amount of change and the government is consolidating the regulation of these medicines into a central agency. But it has caused some interpretation issues and more uncertainty for exporters.
“I think people are still excited about opportunities in China, and remember that China is only one market—there are many more interesting places to do good business, like in Indonesia and Thailand.”