Evolution Health's managing director Ben McHarg addressed our first Probiota Asia summit in Singapore, and outlined how the company had achieved sales increases of over 350% in the past year.
He said there were two main concerns in the China market: Are the products and their benefits real? And have the products been successful in their market of origin?
"We also benefited from early entry to the market," he added. "But we had a long history of success in Australia, which really helped. The first thing a Chinese consumer will do is ask his contacts or family overseas about the quality of a product.
"Above all else, Chinese consumers want quality and they want a product to work. No disrespect to the scientists, but you can do all the studies you like, but if they don't reach the consumer, what's the point? We have consumers voting with their feet because our products work."
McHarg also said it was vital to understand the market and be willing to invest.
He said this would take time, effort and resources, as well as "social listening" — keeping an ear on the ground to understand consumers' needs and thoughts.
The next step was to invest in the ongoing development of insights into key influencers of consumer decision-making.
He said it was also important to "employ and develop relationships and partnerships with local individuals and organisations that share the same corporate values and vision, including for legal and operating expertise".
McHarg described the whole process as a "consistent evolution". For example, the firm initially had considerable success with its products for infants, but had to realign its marketing priorities because the sales then moved into the child sector.
"We quickly realised that the parents who had first bought the products for infants were then switching to the products for older children as they grew up," he added.
McHarg said all that hard work had led to Evolution Health's Life-Space range of products becoming the most popular probiotic brand in China's e-commerce sector.
He added that the Chinese emphasis on brand loyalty gave Evolution Health "enormous advantage" as the first mover, especially in products for pregnancy and babies.
Using its growth in China as a springboard, Evolution Health plans to further expand its business offline in China and other Asian markets such as Hong Kong, Vietnam and India, as well as the US, Russia and Italy.
McHarg said Italy has the second largest probiotic and supplement market in the world, and so has huge potential for business.
He also questioned the value of the probiotic market in China.
"There are lots of numbers out there but I think it is actually much higher than what is reported," he said.
"I read somewhere it was valued at $180m. Well, if that's the case, we've got a pretty large share of the pie."