According to a new report published by Asia Market Information & Development Co (AMID), more than 70,000 metric tons of vitamins and supplements were imported into the country in 2004. These were mostly of the sort that could not be produced domestically.
Because of the relatively low manufacturing costs in China, many foreign firms view it as somewhere they can outsource production and make considerable savings on their bottom line. China is second only to the United States as the largest recipient of foreign investment.
The country has experienced immense economic growth over the past 10 years: GDP has more than doubled over this period, from 3679 yuan (€369) per capita in 1994 to 8500 yuan (€851) last year.
While exports to the country have increased from 115.7 to 593.4 billion yuan between 1994 and 2004 (513 per cent), imports have also soared from 121 to 561.4 billion yuan (464 per cent). By 2014, both are expected to almost rise by almost 200 per cent again, to 1119 and 1054 billion yuan respectively.
This economic growth is causing the middle class to swell and, consequently, a consumer society is developing fast. And it seems that this society has an appetite for vitamins and minerals.
"China's high economic growth has spurred the rapidly rising consumption of vitamins and minerals," wrote the authors of AMID's report.
Consumption has risen by 17.9 per cent per annum over the last ten years, and is expected to continue at almost the same rate (17.2 per cent per annum) through 2009.
So much so, in fact, that demand is outstripping supply and, despite the expansion and construction of new facilities, AMID predicts that this will remain to be the case.
450,800 metric tons were produced in 2004, 127,943 of which were exported to foreign markets. With domestic demand for 393,850 metric tones, 70,993 metric tons had to be imported to meet it.
Over the next ten years, AMID claims that China's vitamin and supplement capacity will reach 2.38 million metric tons. But this will cater just to human consumption - increasingly, they are finding a place in fortified food and beverage products and in cosmetics, in line with trends observed in other parts of the world.
As for the landscape of the industry, several thousand producers exist at present, but enterprise reform is leading many to merge or form alliances.
"Production will be concentrated to large corporations, which have more powerful economic strength," said AMID.
More details of the market report, which also covers investment environment, end-use consumption trends, distribution channels and profiles of key producers, are available from AMID Co.