Australian trade body’s new CEO calls on nutra brands selling overseas to innovate for local markets
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Australian trade body’s new CEO calls on nutra brands selling overseas to innovate for local markets

Sep 02, 2023

30-Aug-2023 - Last updated on 30-Aug-2023 at 07:45 GMT

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John O’Doherty, the new CEO of Complementary Medicines Australia (CMA), took over the helm on July 1, following the retirement of Carl Gibson.

O’Doherty had spent about five-and-a-half years at Blackmores before leaving as the head of Public Affairs in May.

Australia’s complementary medicines sector, now valued at over $6bn, has grown from strength to strength in recent years, as brands gained further recognition both at home and abroad.

One of the priorities moving forward, is to expand market access for Australian complementary medicines in export markets, O’Doherty told NutraIngredients-Asia. ​

Currently, China is the top export destination for Australia’s complementary medicine products.

Last year, products from Australia accounted for 14 per cent of China’s total nutritional and health food imports. This is equivalent to US$824m, CMA’s industry development manager, Miho Kikuchi told us in an interview earlier.​

Between 2021 and 2022, Australia’s export of complementary medicines to China, including dietary supplements, herbal medicines, fish oil, and glucosamine was up 16 per cent.

“Australian products continue to be recognised as clean, green, and safe. There is significant and growing demand in China, with consumers focusing on the importance of health and wellbeing,”​ said O’Doherty.

Asked how Australian brands could maintain their competitiveness in China’s health supplement market, he believes there is an opportunity to build on innovation specifically tailored for export destinations, as opposed to trading existing products from the domestic sector.

“What had happened in the past is that because of cross-border e-commerce, companies have been exporting Australian products to China, and that had worked very well in the past. ​

“But what they've realised is that Chinese consumers’ preferences aren't being fully met.”​

This has led to several brands taking a more consumer-centric approach and innovating for the locals.

“A number of Australian companies now develop products specifically for consumers in China, rather than simply exporting Australian products. This consumer-centric approach will contribute to ongoing demand and growth.”​

Swisse, for example, has launched Swisse Plus Liver Detox Tonic & Cleanse​ in China in 2021, having noted the rising demand for liver health supplements in the country.

International brands such as Caltrate from Haleon have also launched a milk mineral gummy specifically for the China market​, while Bayer launched new probiotics co-developed with Jiangnan University​ under the brand Talcid.

O’Doherty said that CMA would be exhibiting in Shanghai’s Healthplex for the first time after COVID-19 next June. This is one of the major nutraceutical tradeshows in China.

The association will also work closely with Austrade and the China Chamber of Commerce in Australia to support Australian brands in the China market.

Despite geopolitical tensions between Australia and China from time to time, O’Doherty said he remained optimistic about bilateral relations and emphasised that the two countries shared mutual benefits – one of which was improving health outcomes which Australia could contribute to.

“​I’m very optimistic about the Australia-China relationship. We have a lot of mutual benefits and these are what we should focus on. A key part is our drive and commitment is to improve health and wellbeing.​

“A key priority for the Chinese Government is improving overall health outcomes as part of the Healthy China 2030 policy. Our industry can play an important role in contributing to this.”​

India, Indonesia, and Vietnam are the other export markets of interest for Australia’s complementary medicines sector.

“There are a number of markets that are important to CMA members. Some are well established, while others are new and emerging opportunities – such as India, Indonesia and Vietnam.​

“Australia is a world leader in complementary medicines, so our export potential is significant,”​ said O’Doherty.

Aside from exports, O’Doherty also emphasised the need to promote research and education of complementary medicines in the domestic Australian market.

He believes that this is vital in helping the public, regulators, and health practitioners in understanding the efficacy of complementary medicines.

“More than ever, there is a greater emphasis on evidence-based practices within our sector. ​

“Over the past decade, there has been increased research and Innovation in complementary medicines. Academic institutions, research organisations, and manufacturers conduct studies to validate the effectiveness and safety of various natural health products.​

“Promoting research and education is vital to innovation and public health awareness. We will continue to encourage research on the safety and efficacy of complementary medicines, with a key focus on educating consumers, healthcare professionals and stakeholders about the benefits,”​ he said.

In addition, the association will focus on advocating the interests of the complementary medicines industry at both the national and international levels.

He said that this would be done by working closely with regulatory bodies, government agencies and policymakers to ensure that the industry's perspectives were considered in regulations, policies, and trade agreements.

“We are committed to high standards of quality, safety and transparency, and we work regulatory authorities to maintain and improve the regulatory framework that governs the sector,”​ he said.

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