Spending on tonics rivals that for housing
Mainlanders spend almost as much on vitamins and other health supplements as they do on housing, according to a survey of shoppers.
Consumers in the survey spent eight per cent of their income on supplements. About 10 per cent was spent on housing, the study said.
Barry Tse Tan, who questioned more than 1,100 shoppers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, said a distrust of hospitals and a fear of becoming a burden to relatives were also behind the boom in pill sales.
'It's a trend, for sure. Manufacturers are spending huge sums of money promoting these things,' he said.
'If you look at the top of the advert spending a few years back, most of it was for Chinese wine and other alcoholic drinks. Now, what seems to be in vogue is health supplements.'
Calcium, iron and other mineral supplements were the biggest sellers, followed by women's beauty products, ginseng, vitamins and honey or royal jelly.
Mr Tse, a senior manager with market research group AC Nielsen in Beijing, said many adverts used men in white coats pointing to scientific graphs or diagrams of the body.
He said the adverts were especially appealing to people hoping to avoid illness because they had no faith in hospitals.
'In Chinese hospitals, if you go in for some minor thing it's very likely you'll end up paying thousands of renminbi for just a headache because the doctor advises you to go for x-rays and scans. They scare you to death,' Mr Tse said.
'Every hospital visit is going to cost an arm and a leg. The credibility of the Chinese medical institutions has something to contribute to this health-care supplement boom.'
He said pills were aimed at every family member.
'For the older ones, they're really concerned about their health because they've been through harsh times, they know health is important and they don't want to be seen as a burden on their kids.
Younger parents were attracted to the products out of concern to be able to provide for the family.
'What will enable them to do that will be their health - because that will mean they can concentrate on their work. They believe that without health, they can't do anything,' Mr Tse said.
'And you see a lot of adverts for products that supposedly increase your brain power - these are for kids. Kids are under a lot of pressure to do miracles in their homework, and the parents think, 'you'd better take some tonic'.'
Mr Tse said busy lifestyles meant people had less time to make traditional soups, reputed to improve health.
The study was conducted in March and involved interviews with 1,158 people who identified themselves as the main shopper in the home.