In April, we wrote a popular post on how China’s Saturnbird Coffee is taking on Nestle in China’s instant coffee market. Given we love innovative products that unlock new growth, here’s a new example in China’s Supplement Market: BUFFX.
BUFFX is a vitamin and supplement start-up that launched in April this year, not long after China returned to work after a pandemic-induced lockdown. BUFFX attracted two sets of seed investment before its products launched online in September. In its first two weeks, BUFFX accrued CNY 1 million in sales. To us, this is a signal that the brand is doing something right. We think they’ve got plenty of success ahead of them.
Below, we outline what BUFFX did to secure early success in the China Supplement Market:
- Solve a consumer pain point
- Go where others are reluctant to go
- Be bold and distinctive
- Get investors to support launch
Let’s look at each of these in turn. If you work in FMCG, you’ll find the learnings practical and relevant.
BUFFX Solves A Consumer Pain Point In Vitamins And Supplements
Vitamins and supplements are a fast-growing category, posting a CAGR of 10% between 2013 and 2019 – much faster than the FMCG category average.
Vitamins and supplements are traditionally an area where imported brands, such as Swisse and Blackmores, have performed well. Given concerns around the quality and efficacy of domestic vitamins and supplements, the category is highly conducive to cross-border e-commerce.
However, there’s a consumer pain point which has long been overlooked by imported brands – consumers are daunted by imported vitamin and supplement pill sizes. If you compare pills and caplets in China to overseas, you’ll find there is a demonstrable size difference. Through in-home interviews, our research team has found that difficulty swallowing a supplement is one of the top reasons Chinese consumers stop taking supplements.
BUFFX understood this and designed a gummy supplement – the type that you might typically find for children. This has a taste and texture profile which is far more palatable to local consumers, which increases the chance consumers will make purchasing BUFFX a consistent habit, rather than a once-off.
BUFFX Goes Where Others Are Reluctant To Go
Common supplements in China include Vitamin C and E.
BUFFX wasn’t content with making a gummy version of Vitamin C and E supplements. Instead, it looked at specific niches. Skin, sleep, eye care and digestion are commonly-reported ailments among young Chinese consumers. That’s exactly where BUFFX went. Its initial SKUs include formulations for sleep, eye care, digestion and virility. In the category, eye care and virility had been overlooked in recent years and hadn’t seen much new product development.
We can’t stress how important this type of research is – looking for mismatches between consumer needs, existing propositions and new product development.
BUFFX Is Bold And Distinctive
A quick look at BUFFX’s packaging shows how bold and distinctive they want to be.
BUFFX have a clear ambition to be the most distinctive vitamin and supplement brand in-market. This marks a break from the minimalist design features which have defined consumer goods in recent years.
We also think the name BUFFX is important. First, it’s easily searched online. Second, it’s memorable. Third, the term ‘BUFF’ is understood by China’s gamer generation as a term which means an enhancement. That flips traditional impressions of supplements on their head – instead of fixing a deficiency, BUFFX augments and empowers.
This sort of branding and positioning work is essential if you’re looking to build a lasting brand in-market.
BUFFX Used Investor Support To Launch
Launching and succeeding in China isn’t for the faint of heart. You need to play to win. One of the first questions we ask brand partners is what resources they can commit to their expansion in China. That’s because we know that China is a commitment. Even n iterative, test-and-learn approach needs to be adequately supported.
As a start-up, BUFFX didn’t have the resources of category leaders like Swisse or GNC. So, it went to investors and pitched the idea – gummy supplements with distinctive packaging, targeting graduates who want to work and play hard. These investors are no doubt pleased with BUFFX’s launch in September – expertly timed for traction and a pop over this year’s Single’s Day.
Now’s your chance!
Alibaba wants to bring 1,000 overseas brands to China. Last year, Tmall Global piloted the incubation program with brands like Fenty Beauty, DPC and Brandfree. However, to get backed by Alibaba, brands need to put in the work. We think BUFFX is a good example.
If you like the sound of BUFFX’s approach to market, our team has the requisite skills across research, marketing and commerce to launch a product from scratch, or adjust your product and business model to the needs of China’s consumers. Get in touch to find out more.