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Mainland Demand for Imported Repellents Benefits Hong Kong Traders

Imported and non-toxic mosquito repellents are the avowed preference for many mainland consumers – particularly young parents – with meeting this demand now proving a windfall for many Hong Kong export agents and suppliers.

Photo: Anti-mosquito products: repellent to insects, appealing to consumers.
Anti-mosquito products: repellent to insects, appealing to consumers.

As imported mosquito repellents are frequently difficult to buy in China, purchasing agents have emerged as important channels for those Chinese consumers looking to buy these summer necessities. This has ultimately been hugely to the benefit of Hong Kong, the principal source of many of these items.

Over recent years, the range of such repellents has broadened considerably. In addition to traditional mosquito coils, consumers now have the choice of opting for anti-mosquito cologne, creams, lamps, bracelets, and even mobile phone apps.

"Mother-child" and "health" concepts taking roots

With the arrival of summer, many major shopping centres now have in place dedicated counters stocking mosquito repellent items. The world of e-commerce, too, has readied itself for the inevitable seasonal upsurge in demand. Many such websites now feature pages dedicated to mosquito repellents, alongside information on how to best tackle the problem.

The range of items available includes a variety of preventive products, such as mosquito coils, mosquito toilet water, LED mosquito lamps, photocatalyst mosquito devices and mosquito repellent bracelets. Both online and offline retailers also stock therapeutic products such as cool oil, comfrey ointment drugs, as well as several medicinal treatments.

With health and environment issues now predominating, consumers are particularly attracted by products that emphasise their green credentials and that come with safety assurances. Currently, mosquito repellent products with "suitable for children" or "mother-child approved" labels generally sell well. Although the mainland has no official safety standards for children's products, many consumers tend to show faith in any such assurances by manufacturers.

In the case of mosquito coils, for instance, it was found that if a particular product was labelled "mother-child approved" it could command a 30%-40% sales premium over products of exactly the same brand and specification that lacked the endorsement. In the case of Superb electric mosquito repellent refills, for example, the "mother-child" labelled version sells for Rmb26.5, while the standard variety sells for only Rmb18. According to sales staff at one mall, the prices for mosquito coils labelled as safe to use when babies are present are considerably higher.

While many of the traditional anti-mosquito chemical agents are still widely available, a new generation of products is also starting to appear on the shelves. Several pharmaceutical companies have introduced innovative mosquito repellent and anti-itching products over recent years, prompting ever more keen competition to gain market share.

One such new arrival in the sector is Tong Ren Tang, a Beijing-based pharmaceutical company and the manufacturer of Sun Simiao mosquito repellent, Wenbuding toilet water, mosquito repellent medicine bags and a variety of anti-itching products. It has sought to establish a niche for itself with its traditional herbal medicine brands and pollution-free treatments.

In the more kid-friendly sector, Goodbaby, an established manufacturer of children's clothing and daily necessities, has also entered the sector. The company's two mosquito repellent products are both promoted as natural and non-toxic and have been targeted at the high-end of the children's market. A 60ml bottle of the company's child-friendly herbal mosquito repellent retails for Rmb42, two-three times the price of standard products.

Purchasing agents mostly source from Hong Kong

Lu Ping is a resident of Zhoushan in the northeasterly province of Zhejiang. Mother to an eight-month-old son, she has a distinct preference for imported mosquito repellents.

Her products of choice are all Japanese in origin, notably Muhi mosquito anti-itching liquid and Lion baby mosquito repellent bracelets. Seen as safe and effective, these products are not only favoured by her but also by many of her friends, the majority of whom are also young mothers. As these products are not readily available on the mainland, she usually asks friends visiting Hong Kong to buy them for her or orders them online.

Photo: Child-friendly repellents.
Child-friendly repellents.
Photo: Anti-mosquito bracelets.
Anti-mosquito bracelets.

The online selection is, indeed, huge. Taobao, the mainland's largest e-commerce platform, offers some 10,000 different mosquito repellent products. Of these, some 5,000 are sourced from Hong Kong. As a sign of the level of demand, one internet outlet sold in excess of 1,300 Hong Kong-sourced Pearl's MosquitOut bracelets in a 30-day period.

Muhi anti-itch liquid from Japan and Italy's Pearl's MosquitOut patch are two of the anti-mosquito items available from Hong Kong suppliers that are most sought after by mainland consumers. While not readily available in China, both products already have a loyal user base in the country.

One trader benefiting from this demand is "Kelvin". Based in Yufeng in Guangzhou, his specialty is purchasing goods in Hong Kong for the mainland market. He has sold anti-mosquito products – all of them sourced from Hong Kong – since 2011.

Initially, he saw his online sales operation as a low-cost add-on sales channel. Now, however, his volume of online sales outperforms that coming from any of his other sales channels.

Understandably, spring and summer are the peak periods for mosquito repellents sales. Describing the preferences of his customers, Kelvin said: "People generally see imported products as safer and more environmentally-friendly, suitable for use by pregnant women and children. Typically, a surprising number of customers from the north want to buy Hong Kong-sourced repellents."

As with a number of other traders in Guangzhou, Kelvin works in association with a reliable Hong Kong agent. There are many similar operations in the city and even more can be found in Shenzhen, where they tend to be concentrated in certain sales areas, notably the city's Luohu District.

"Powerful new repellent" gains popularity

Many traditional repellent products contain DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide), a potent pesticide known to have some side effects. A number of others contain permethrin, another mildly toxic substance. In light of this, a number of consumers are now keen to purchase products that lack the potentially adverse effects of these traditional repellents.

Mosquito repellent bracelets and patches have less contact with the skin than the lotions traditionally favoured. They are also easy to use and inexpensive, making them the preferred choice of many consumers. A Taobao search for "mosquito repellent bracelets", for instance, highlighted 20,000 such items.

One such item had sales in excess of 12,000 units within one month. It was also said to comply with the relevant quality protocols and to offer protection for up to 24 hours. Other such items have taken a more stylish approach, with a number adopting a Hello Kitty design in order to appeal to young female consumers.

Ultrasonic insect repellent is another popular choice this year. As the system works by imitating the low-frequency sounds emitted by male mosquitoes, it drives away the insects without causing any side effects. Many young mothers have opted for this form of repellent as a safer alternative for their children. By adjusting the frequency, the product is also said to be able to drive away rats, cockroaches and a number of other pests.

Photo: Sourced from Hong Kong: repellent requisites.
Sourced from Hong Kong: repellent requisites.

A variant of this is the dedicated mosquito repellent mobile app, an innovation that has been downloaded some two million times. As with the ultrasonic products, the app generates soundwaves that deter mosquitoes. One such app lists the variants on offer as coming in five modes – noise, dragonfly, male mosquito, bat or synthesised. All of these are said to employ the "biomimicry" principle in order to repel mosquitoes.

Ren Yuan, Special Correspondent, Beijing

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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