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Health-minded Filipinos Go for Natural Items, but Shun China Goods

A new wave of health awareness has triggered demand for natural cosmetics across the Philippines, according to Exhibitors at this year's Health and Vanity Expo, although many remain wary of quality control in mainland goods.

Photo: Made in the Philippines: Kimora’s cosmetics range.
Made in the Philippines: Kimora's cosmetics range.
Photo: Made in the Philippines: Kimora’s cosmetics range.
Made in the Philippines: Kimora's cosmetics range.

Growing awareness of health and wellbeing issues across the Philippines is leading many consumers to experiment with natural cosmetic products, according to exhibitors at the Health and Vanity Expo in Manila. Overall, Filipino consumers are seen as willing to pay more for organic natural products. In something of a downside for Chinese manufacturers, however, a number of Filipino buyers have deep-rooted concerns about the quality of products sourced from the mainland.

Addressing the changes in the market, Marciana Agnas, a Representative of Kimora Beauty Products, said: "The 'naturals' dominate. Consumers want more vitamins and more plant-derived products." Based in Lucena City, the capital of the Philippines' Quezon province, the company produces skincare and cosmetics products targetting dermatologists, beauty parlours, and other small and medium-sized entrepreneurs.

Agnas' views were mirrored by Hubert O. Arco, General Manager of OleoLines Inc, a Manila-based importer of raw materials for beauty products.  He said: "One of the big trends at the moment is that personal care is going green.

"We are seeing much more interest in natural products than ever before. This is the case in our products right across the board – anti-aging, whitening products and everything really."

According to Agnas, the trend is being driven by consumers' growing concerns about their health, spurring demands for more sophisticated health and beauty consumables. She said: "People are now more health-conscious. Before, they would just take vitamins, but now that is changing.

"Glutathione [a natural antitoxidant], for example, used to be only available in pill form, but now it's also in lotions. Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin F. They want it 'all-in': They want everything in there."

This shift towards naturally-based products means higher prices for consumers, but the Filipino public seem willing to pay for quality. Pearlie Ann Alcaraz, representing locally based PEN Marketing, distributors of homemade soaps and personalized cosmetics, said: "For Filipinos, cosmetics seem to be a necessity, not a luxury. Some, though, are willing to spend more to ensure the products are safe.

Broadly in agreement with this, Agnas said: "Consumers want to use their money wisely. They say: 'It is better that we spend money on more pricey items, than buy something that is cheaper, but has side effects.'"

These concerns are a comparatively new phenomenon, and one that Alcaraz ascribes to increased awareness of health issues. He said: "Filipino consumers are more educated now, maybe because of technology, as well as the availability and speed with which information is spread."

According to Alcaraz, around half of those she had spoken to at the show were willing to pay more for organic, natural products. This was a distinct change from just a few years ago, when organic and natural products were very much a niche market.

She said: "This trend is driven very much by fear. Consumers fear the Big C. They ask me: 'Will this cause cancer?' When it comes to food, though, it's diabetes they're most worried about."

Unsurprisingly, this trend towards natural products is not limited to the cosmetics sector. It also extends throughout the wider health sector.

Carl Michael Morales, Training Manager for GoldLife, a multi-level marketing company selling vitamins and food supplements, is sure about the direction for his own business. He said: "We're very much going back to nature." With sites across the Philippines, GoldLife is a sister company to the Lloyd Group, a Manila-based pharmaceutical company now moving into the health and food supplements business. Morales said: "We see this as the next trillion dollar industry."

Photo: Ines: “Filipinos want to combat aging”.
Ines: "Filipinos want to combat aging".
Photo: Ines: “Filipinos want to combat aging”.
Ines: "Filipinos want to combat aging".
Photo: Morales: “Detoxification a priority”.
Morales: "Detoxification a priority".
Photo: Morales: “Detoxification a priority”.
Morales: "Detoxification a priority".

According to Morales, the trend towards healthy, natural products has also boosted sales of detoxifying treatments. He said: "People have become more aware that almost everything we ingest contains chemicals. As a result, it is important for a health and wellness company to have a product that includes detoxification."

These health concerns have also proved a boon to gyms across the Philippines, driving people of all ages to take more exercise. Anne Billones, a Representative of FitFast, a Manila-based gym, believes Filipinos were now willing to spend far more on fitness now than they were in the past. She said: "The trend right now is for young professionals to investing in fitness, given the growing awareness that you need to take care of your health."

Billones, who says the trend started two to three years ago, believes it is part of a worldwide move towards a healthy lifestyle. She said: "We're just catching up with it in the Philippines, as can be seen in the many campaigns, both on traditional and social media, encouraging a healthy lifestyle."

Robert Branda, Training Manager at Slimmer's World International's Philippines operation made a similar point. He said: "There is a growing awareness of the need for health and fitness at the moment in the Philippines. We have a range of clients and, for the first time, we are seeing a number of older clients, some in their 70s or even 80s, as well as young people."

Not all consumers with an interest in their appearance are turning to gyms, however. Anthoine Juliet Ines, Marketing Manager of the Shinagawa Lasik & Aesthetics Center Corporation, said: "We have treatment and procedures for people needing help slimming down." Shinagawa is a Japanese-based company specializing in lasik eye surgery, but they also offer skin care products, as well as a range of other treatments and procedures, ranging from face-lifts to orthodontics.

Ines said that their customers were not only getting more health-conscious, they were also getting younger. She said: "Filipinos – both men and women – in their 20s and 30s are asking about anti-ageing products. They're preparing themselves, as they want to know what they can do to prevent ageing."

Ines also said that this trend extended further, as the quest for beauty and youth has been passed down to younger generations. She said: "Just today, we had an inquiry regarding hair removal from a teenager. The girl was accompanied by her mother, who will be paying for the procedure." This was not a unique occurrence, with Ines reporting other recent enquiries from teenagers and their parents. She said: "The parents also want their children to look better."

While demand for natural and healthy products is growing, the quality of products remains hugely important. For this reason, neither PEN nor Kimora source any materials from mainland China. Agmas said: "The quality of raw materials from China is not consistent. We test lots of materials and take whichever passes in terms of quality, price and availability. None of the materials from China passed our tests.

"Even if the sample is okay, the actual order can be a problem. Before starting this business, I did a blind test on materials from different countries and China-made products were not good. Their foaming capacity was not up to standard and they had an off-putting odour."

By contrast, both Morales from GoldLife and Arco from OleoLines said that they do import raw materials from Taiwan. Commenting on this, Arco said: "Taiwan is known for offering cheaper products than other traditional suppliers, but at a similar quality."

With regard to Hong Kong, Alcaraz maintained while it is clearly a competitor to the Philippines, as it also manufactures cosmetic products, she was not particularly concerned. She said: "As a local manufacturer, we can price products lower than imported Hong Kong cosmetics."

In fact, according to Ines, many at the show see mainland China as a potential market for their own goods. She said: "We have had online inquiries from people on the mainland China and in Hong Kong about lasik and aesthetic treatments."

Photo: Sweet smell of success: Scented soaps from PEN Marketing.
Sweet smell of success: Scented soaps from PEN Marketing.
Photo: Sweet smell of success: Scented soaps from PEN Marketing.
Sweet smell of success: Scented soaps from PEN Marketing.

The Health and Vanity Expo 2015, was held at Manila's SMX Convention Center from 23-25 April 2015.

Geoff de Freitas, Special Correspondent, Manila

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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