What the Rise of Health-Conscious Consumers Means for Health Supplements in Malaysia
Hui Shan Tan
December 27, 2019
July 10, 2023
In an earlier article on Health Supplements in Southeast Asia, we’ve uncovered the reasons behind the booming health supplements market in the region, and how consumers as a whole are increasingly willing to self-diagnose, self-medicate and self-monitor.
In this article, we’ll be zooming into consumers’ rising health-consciousness in Malaysia, a country that ranks the highest in terms of obesity and diabetes within Southeast Asia.1 We’ll look at what this means for the health supplements market in the country, and how you can benefit from this through the use of cross-border eCommerce.
When analysing the factors behind this trend, we’ve noticed that the upper-middle and high income portion of the population are generally more educated and have a tendency to take charge of their own health. To these people, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound a cure.
As a result, health supplements are seen as a means to maintain and increase overall wellbeing. These products include vitamins, minerals, herbs, meal supplements, sports nutrition products and natural food supplements.
In addition, eCommerce is seen as one of the fastest growing distribution channel2 of health supplements in Malaysia, experiencing double-digit growth rates. With 25.84 million active internet users1, or 80 percent of the population, eCommerce appeals to many consumers in Malaysia.
Couple the growing demand for health supplements with the boom of eCommerce in Malaysia, and you’d find that there lies a number of opportunities for newer merchants to enter the health supplements market. Capturing the consumer base in Malaysia could also help you to enter the rest of the Southeast Asia markets, having established your brand as a reliable one.
Therefore, it would be good to have a better understanding of your potential consumers in Malaysia and their perspectives on health supplements. Before we go into detail about the key insights we’ve found, let’s first look at an overview of the market.
According to Euromonitor, the Vitamins and Dietary Supplements market in Malaysia2 reached MYR3.1 billion sales in 2019, increasing drastically from MYR2.07 billion sales in 2014.
Additionally, in a separate statement by Malaysian Dietary Supplement Association (MADSA) president Muthu Shanmunghom, the market size of dietary supplements in the country showed an upward projection at MYR2.27 billion.3
Health supplements in Malaysia continue to be driven positively by consumers engaging in self-medication and self-care4 amid their stressful, time-pressed, modern lifestyles. This sees them addressing digestive issues that arise from busier lives and irregular eating patterns and finding products to hydrate their eyes because of prolonged use of digital screens.
External factors such as air pollution in the country also have an impact on health supplements. Consumers turn to nasal remedies and pharyngeal preparation to address the irritations that occur to their noses and throats because of the poor air quality, as well as other dietary supplements to help their skin.
In addition, the increase in consumption of health supplements can also be tied to Malaysians’ greater awareness of health issues1 and having more disposable income available lately.
A wide range of health supplements are readily available in the market, including products for joint health, digestive health, heart and circulation, stress and energy, eye health, multivitamins and antioxidants, weight management, detox and wellness products for the elderly.
As such, it can be said that the health supplements market in Malaysia has been growing in tandem with rising health-consciousness and disposable income among consumers, as locals become more interested in improving their overall wellbeing amidst busy lifestyles. For an overview of Malaysia's eCommerce scene, you can also check out our Malaysia country guide.
Now that we’ve gotten an overview of the market, let’s dive deeper into some of the key insights we’ve found.
Key Insights about the Health Supplements Market
Consumers increasingly consume health supplements to prevent diabetes and other diseases
As of 2019, Malaysia is ranked sixth in the Asia Pacific region and the top country within Southeast Asia1 for both obesity and diabetes. An alarming seven million adults, both diagnosed and undiagnosed, are estimated to be affected by diabetes in Malaysia by 2025.
Obesity and diabetes have been connected to serious Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease and hypertension.
According to Malaysia’s Health Minister Dr Dzulkefly5, the impact of diabetes on society is substantial as it can impose a large economic burden on people with diabetes and their families in terms of out-of-pocket medical bills, loss of family income associated with disability and premature death, and caring for disabled members.
Dr Dzulkefly also said that a macroeconomic study done in 2011 showed that diabetes cost the country approximately RM2 billion, potentially representing 13 per cent of the healthcare budget for the year 2011.
Therefore, consumers in Malaysia who are increasingly aware of such potential health and monetary issues associated with eating habits have become more proactive in searching for health supplements to prevent chronic diseases.
Foreign brands dominate the market
On another note, it has been reported that Malaysia’s health supplement consumption is mainly met by imports1 from other countries. This comes either in the form of finished goods or raw materials for local assembly. Local importers often collaborate with foreign manufacturers to acquire private labeled products.
Some popular brands in the market6 include American brand Amway, Japanese brand Suntory, and Singaporean brand Kino Biotech.
In 2017, China was the largest exporter1 of nutritional and food supplements to Malaysia holding 26.1 percent market share. The largest sources of nutritional and food supplements by market share were:
China (26.1 percent)
Switzerland (23 percent)
Thailand (14.7 percent)
Germany (7.1 percent)
United States (5.7 percent)
According to the US Department of eCommerce, while foreign brands are both trusted and well-received by Malaysian consumers, foreign companies must be cognizant of Malaysia’s price sensitivities. This is because the cost of living is still relatively low compared to more developed economies, such as the US, hence prices should be adjusted accordingly when entering the market.
As a whole, with foreign brands dominating the market, newer brands looking to enter the health supplements market in Malaysia need not be afraid of negative consumer perceptions surrounding foreign brands as Malaysian consumers are generally interested in them.
Herbal and traditional supplements hold a third of market share
Additionally, according to Euromonitor4, about 35.7% of total sales of health supplements in Malaysia in 2019 came from herbal or traditional products, slightly above a third of total sales. This figure has been hovering around 36% over the past five years, with the highest being 37.3% in 2015 and the lowest being the 2019 figure.
However, Euromonitor also noted that herbal/traditional products continue to feature highly among several consumer health categories due to the variety of cultural backgrounds in the country that have long relied on natural and herbal remedies.
This could mean that even as the percentage of sales for herbal or traditional supplements decline slightly, there may still remain a fixed group of consumers who are interested in these products.
Therefore, it is likely that merchants can enter the Malaysian health supplement market with either standard or traditional products, as there is research to show that the two types of supplements are still in demand.
Since we’ve gotten a better understanding of the key insights of the health supplements market in Malaysia, let’s find out more about the latest product trends in the market.
Find out how Janio helps an eCommerce merchant ship his Australian Health Supplement products smoothly into Indonesia with our case study.
Product Trends in Malaysia
Natural or organic products
Firstly, natural and organic supplements are gaining popularity in Malaysia as consumers become more aware of the potential damage that can arise from using artificial ingredients in their health supplements.
Some of the market best-sellers1 include fish oils, CoQ10 (Coenzyme Q10), Gingko, collagen supplements, and detoxification preparations. Natural slimming and fat burning, and skin and hair strengthening food supplements are also in high demand.
In addition, market perceptions of a combination of two or more types of natural supplement ingredients are better than single type supplements. For merchants looking to enter the market, this means that bringing in products that combine several natural ingredients into one product can help your store appeal more to consumers.
Another product trend in Malaysia revolves around tonics with a beauty positioning4, which target improved skin fairness and the reduction of wrinkles. These products continue to be very popular among consumers who purchase health supplements for aesthetic purposes.
For instance, Kinohimitsu under Kino Biotech offers a range of tonics including White Activ, Prowhite Glutathione Camu Camu & Berries, Snow White, and Snow Lotus Stem Cell which claims to help restore youthfulness, energy and vitality. Kinohimitsu products claim to possess nature-based extracts that focus on detoxification, health and beauty.7
Hence, as a merchant looking to appeal to consumers in Malaysia, positioning your products with a natural and beauty stance to them might help you to benefit from the product trends in the market.
Entering the Health Supplements Market in Malaysia with Cross-Border eCommerce
With improving internet and mobile connectivity, Malaysia has been seeing high rates of eCommerce usage1 which is a good channel to consider when looking to gain a foothold in their health supplements market. In total, Malaysia boasts 16.53 million online shoppers (50 per cent of the population), and 62 per cent of mobile users use their devices to shop online.
Furthermore, internet retailing’s value share of health supplements2 in Malaysia has increased slightly in 2019. Consumers have gained greater access to various internet retailing channels, including third party websites such as Lazada and Shopee, which has exposed them to a wider range of health supplements. Platforms of retailers such as Watsons, Guardian and Caring Pharmacy have also contributed to the online sales volume of health supplements.
Foreign products like Swisse vitamins from Australia, KiMiSo slimming chocolates from Korea, and Sumifun diabetic patches from China are popular on several eCommerce platforms, and have sold thousands of products to consumers in Malaysia.
Despite not having physical outlets in the country, these foreign brands are able to reach out to Malaysian consumers through the use of cross-border eCommerce. Hence, being able to appeal to consumers through online methods can be very useful in a country where consumers are digitally-inclined.
According to the US Department of Commerce1, eCommerce shoppers in Malaysia are motivated by price advantages, product range, and availability of reviews. Malaysian shoppers look for free shipping, convenience, and exclusive deals offered by online stores. Some of the top eCommerce platforms in Malaysia8 as of the third quarter of 2019 are:
Shopee (25,789,300 monthly web visits)
Lazada (18,725,600 monthly web visits)
Lelong (2,223,000 monthly web visits)
Zalora (1,314,700 monthly web visits)
PG Mall (876,100 monthly web visits)
Merchants who have yet to enter Malaysia can consider listing their products on the most popular eCommerce marketplaces in the country. As these platforms get millions of traffic each month, they may help to make things easier for new merchants to gain a foothold in the online retail scene before venturing on their own eCommerce site. Cross-border shipping models also allow one to test market demand without incurring any local warehousing costs too.
As a whole, the health supplements market in Malaysia is a rapidly growing one that provides many opportunities for newer merchants to enter the market. With increasing demand for disease-prevention supplements, and changing preferences towards natural and beauty supplements, there lies room for fresh brands to enter the market.
Furthermore, popular eCommerce platforms and experienced eCommerce logistics service providers can simplify much of your cross-border shipping process, making it much easier for you to start expanding your business in Malaysia.