Seven Seas maker to build Asian joint health market

By Dominique Patton

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Hong kong Omega-3 fatty acid

German drugs group Merck KgaA, the maker of Seven Seas cod liver
oil supplements, said yesterday that it will launch a range of
natural joint health products in Asia in the coming year after
estimating the potential market to be worth US$100 million.

The company's OTC division, Merck Consumer Health Care (CHC), will target Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia and Thailand, countries with relatively small supplement sales compared with the giant Asian supplements market, Japan.

Kai Beckmann, managing director of Merck's Singapore and Malaysian subsidiaries, told an international press conference in Hong Kong that the firm had identified "an entirely new healthcare category in Asia for natural joint health treatments"​ and that it was set to become the leading joint care supplement in the region.

Given Merck's leading share of the UK supplements market, its latest move could be one to watch for other supplement makers interested in moving east.

According to data from Euromonitor, glucosamine, which dominates the natural joint health markets in the US and Japan, has not made much impact in other Asian markets.

Sales in 2004 did not quite reach $1 million in Singapore and were only half as much in Hong Kong, compared with $200 million in Japan.

Fish oils - the key ingredient in Merck's joint care range - are however proving more popular, growing some 7 per cent last year in Malaysia to reach $10.2 million, and by 4.5 per cent to reach $1 million in Hong Kong.

While fish oils, and particulary omega-3 fatty acids are less well established for their actions on joint health, Merck has been boosted by research from Cardiff University out last year, which showed how cod liver oil helps joints by slowing down the progression of cartilage destruction and reducing inflammatory mediators commonly associated with arthritis.

Its Seven Seas JointCare, which contains cod liver oil and omega-3 fatty acids, is already performing well in the UK where it has a current market value of £9 million.

And in Hong Kong, where the brand has already been introduced, it has seen an 89 per cent increase in sales since 2004.

Asian consumers traditionally turn to their diet and natural remedies for ailments, and Merck claims that it is common practice for patients in Asia to seek treatment from their doctor only when their joint pain becomes acute.

Independent research commissioned by the firm found more than one in four adults in its target markets currently experience joint health problems, ranging from inflammation caused by painful joints to cartilage damage associated with arthritis.

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