FAMILIES in Hong Kong may be cutting back to make ends meet, but their health is one thing that will not be sacrificed, according to health food companies. Companies such as Green Concern, which was set up by a chiropractor, homeopath and naturopath, and Health Gate, which provides food suitable for those with allergies or yeast infections, say they have been little affected by the downturn. Della Mak Po-king, manager of Green Concern, said that although many of her European customers were away for the summer holidays, she still had plenty of trade. 'We are still getting a lot of new clients,' she said. 'More and more people are thinking about their health.' At Health Gate, director Anna Chen said there had been only a slight downturn in business. 'The summer months are always our slower months, but this summer is slower than ever,' she said. Companies in the health business are finding that a close relationship with the customer can be the key to staying afloat through the tough times. Ms Chen set up her business six years ago, using commercial space she had in Central from a previous photographic supplies business, after reading about the plight of the Food Allergies Self-Help group. Group members were finding it difficult to get the specialist foods they needed in Hong Kong and worked with Ms Chen initially to select and source food and health products. Since then, she has developed a dedicated clientele. Some have grown to rely on the products she imports from the United States so much they have continued to order supplies even after moving as far from Hong Kong as Japan, South Korea, the mainland, Indonesia and Denmark. Health-food businesses tend to have stronger relationships with customers than others because of the intimate nature of the business. HealthGate sells books on health matters, and often advises customers on appropriate products. Ms Chen said customers might be shopping for a friend with cancer or other serious illnesses and would need sensitive and well-informed advice. At Green Concern, the business is still advised by its founder Dr Alexander Yuan Tai-ming, who has since branched out into other health-related businesses, including a colonic irrigation clinic. 'He is always bringing new things in from around the world,' said Ms Mak. Cutting back on stock during the leaner times is difficult for those in the health business because of customer reliance. Ms Chen said about 30 per cent of customers shopped at Health Gate because they could not find the foods they needed elsewhere, so she would be sticking to business as usual as much as possible. 'There's not much we can do,' she said. Costs also can be kept to a minimum by reducing frequency of shipments from the US to once every seven weeks, from the five-six week shipments she orders during most of the year. Where health food businesses have lost some trade is through the departure of ex-pat customers. Green Concern estimates about 50 per cent of its clients are expatriates. Ms Chen said some regular customers had left in recent months as businesses had cut back in Asia or as contracts had ended. Replacing them would be the key method of boosting business. 'We will try to spend a little more to generate interest with people arriving in Hong Kong,' she said. In the meantime, the customers will continue to get five-star treatment. When one Shanghai-based mother ordered two boxes of baby cereal and asked for them to be delivered to a friend visiting Hong Kong on business, Ms Chen drove to the hotel with the cereal to save the customer the cost of delivery. 'We have really enjoyed making friends with our customers,' she said.