Medical Nutrition: South Asia is a hot spot of opportunity

For leading medical nutrition companies, South Asia is a prime market for expansion.

Medical nutrition products are highly successful in Asian markets. In Japan and South Korea, medical nutrition products have had a long history of use for the past 70 to 80 years. These products offer solutions for different health issues, including diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases, chronic kidney disease, cancer, surgery, Alzheimer’s disease, allergies in infants and children, and sarcopenia and malnutrition among the elderly population.

Following the huge success in Japan and South Korea, South Asian countries are on the verge of becoming the next hub for medical nutrition products.

History of Use: Japan and South Korea

In Japan and South Korea, the senior population constitutes approximately 29% of the total population. This elderly population is generally inflicted with one or more critical illnesses.

In these countries, home care and elderly nursing facilities are common. Eldercare facilities rely on medical nutrition products to meet patients’ daily nutritional needs. The growing demand for medical nutrition products has forged a strong collaboration between medical professionals and key brand owners such as Otsuka, Meiji, Abbott, Daesang, and Maeil. This successful collaboration has led to the development of products to completely meet the nutritional requirements of the patients and elderly population.

Expanded Opportunities

The growing popularity of medical nutrition products in Asia has led such companies to increase their focus on other markets such as India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines, among others—and for good reason. South Asia accounts for a large share of world's population with growing prevalence of diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and malnutrition, and in addition has a high percentage of elderly population primarily in Southeast Asia. South Asian countries offer lucrative potential for medical nutrition products.

Indonesia and India

Indonesia and India are among countries with the highest diabetic populations in the world. In India and Indonesia, there are 77 million and 17 million people suffering from diabetes, respectively. Chronic kidney disease and malnutrition are also common.

Patients inflicted with these maladies are major consumers of medical nutrition products. Changing lifestyles, new self-care methodologies, and an increase in health consciousness and population income are some catalysts fueling demand for medical nutrition products in the region. The COVID-19 pandemic has further augmented the growth of medical nutrition products not only in Asia Pacific but across the world. The deadly virus has made people more health conscious, and the spike in hospitalization rates has increased demand for medical nutrition products for hospitalized patients as well as for recovering patients to combat malnutrition and fatigue related to the virus.

Of note, medical nutrition products for diabetes, malnutrition, and gastrointestinal disease are consumed at higher rates compared to products for specific critical illnesses such as cancer, surgery, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease, as these conditions are lower in prevalence.

In India and Indonesia, domestic products are more popular than imported products. Protinex by Danone is the highest-selling medical nutrition product and is getting more popular day by the day in India. The company is also expanding its export engagements with existing partner countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan, as well as exploring new markets such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka, among others.

In India, imported products must follow the strict standards of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI); hence, imports of these products are quite limited in India, and the majority of the global players such as Abbott, Danone, Nestlé, and Fresenius Kabi either have their own manufacturing facilities locally or are associated with local contract manufacturers.

In Indonesia, domestic products for diabetes management are quite popular and account for more than 90% of the country’s total medical nutrition market for diabetes. Companies like PT Kalbe Farma and PT SOHO Global Health cater to the majority of the demand. However, a large share of sarcopenia and malnutrition products are primarily imported into the country. Looking at the country’s potential for medical nutrition, companies such as Kalbe, Combiphar, and SOHO Global Health are expanding their medical nutrition business focus due to the increasing aging population and prevalence of diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and malnutrition.

Other Regions

Other countries in Southeast Asia, such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, primarily depend on imported products.

Despite Vietnam’s smaller population, the consumption of medical nutrition products is higher in the country compared to India and Indonesia. This is primarily due to the support of the Vietnamese government and regulatory bodies to promote these products in national and regional markets.

There is a huge production base for medical nutrition products for sarcopenia and diabetes in Singapore; however, other medical nutrition products such as those for cancer, chronic kidney disease, surgery, etc., are imported in the country. Abbott Singapore is one of the leading exporters of medical nutrition for countries in Asia Pacific as well as the Middle East and Africa.

Looking at the growth potential, domestic players in Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines have started to penetrate more of the market to diminish the dependence on imported products.

Internal trade of medical nutrition products is quite prominent in the Asia Pacific region. Countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Brunei, Myanmar, Nepal, and Bhutan are predominantly importing products from India, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia. Due to limited consumption of medical nutrition in these countries, there is no significant manufacturing infrastructure for medical nutrition products in these countries.

Need for Consumer Awareness

Despite all the factors supporting growth of medical nutrition products in South Asia, there is still a lack of awareness about these products among consumers. Less than 1% of the total adult population in South Asia is using medical nutrition products.

Previously, companies were not allowed to promote their products on commercial platforms such as TV and social media. Now, with the ease in regulations, medical nutrition products are available as over-the-counter (OTC) products as well. This will help reduce the barrier between product and customer.

The price of these products, however, remains a deterrent for many consumers. On an average, one person has to spend at least USD $300-500 per year on these products, which is quite high for the South Asian population. If companies aim to more deeply penetrate local markets of developing South Asian countries, then lowering prices might catalyze bridging the gap between consumer and product in these regions where average household income is low to modest.

Saima Musharraf(saima.m@chembizr.com) is a consultant, specialties, for ChemBizR. ChemBizR is a boutique business research and consulting partner of chemical companies globally, involved in addressing companies’ critical business challenges and strategic growth initiatives to help them transform their enterprise for sustainable growth in a highly competitive and rapidly evolving environment. For more information, e-mail connect@chembizr.com.