Ingestible Beauty & Male skincare in China’s Beauty market

Hi everyone. Today in my interview series we’ve got Michael Norris from agencyChina

Michael and his team spend a lot of time conducting field work across China observing first hand consumer behaviour, and I thought he was a really interesting person to have on to talk about some of the latest consumer trends in Beauty.

Welcome Michael. Thanks very much for having me Allie and a special hello to your audience.

I think let’s kick it off with the first question which is with recent research and the macro track economic situation.

Have you seen any  interesting shifts with female consumers looking to buy International brands in China?

I think International clients continue to be inspired by the level of total Beauty. This idea that it’s not just skin care, that it also extends to what you eat. Interesting work quite recently around exercise and even some dietary supplements.

This idea that it extends across all these different interventions. All the way to little gadgets and gizmos and something we did quite recently on temperature testing.

The idea of miniature fridges that you pop your different serums and nutraceuticals in to make sure that they’re in tip-top shape. I think clients are very encouraged by the idea of beauty is a phenomenon and the edges of it just keep extending and that’s something that continues to inspire.

And the second thing that I think is interesting is that the mask factor continues, we’ve been through summer, we are going into winter and the need states around maskne so that is mask plus acne the two words together and the different skincare conditions that gives rise to is something where there’s still continued interest.

And I think that there is from the consumer side a lot of interest in finding mask proof skin care routines, whether it be for daily care or something that’s a little bit more first aid or an emergency response.

If you’ve had some breakouts from wearing it for too long or some irritation and the ability to be able to come in and solve that is highly prized by consumers at this point in time.

Do you think that there are Chinese brands that are really trying to tap into that or do you think there’s something that maybe International brands have an edge?

This is an area where efficacy matters and irrespective of whether it’s a local brand or whether it’s an imported brand the efficacy will do the talking. And I think that that’s probably the primary consideration.

Ingestible Beauty in China has traditionally been dominated by major players like Swisse & GNC, really big International brands that come in and they really got a big foothold in the market, but recently I’ve seen more niche brands both Chinese brands.

But then International niche brands coming in and with more Innovative formats different offerings, and I wanted to get your take on that and whether there was anything interesting that you’ve seen on the research side.

I agree that this is a really interesting trend. I think the thing that I try and convey to new entrants at the top of our engagement is that there’s a long-standing tradition of using food as a way to improve skin care hair and nails as part of Chinese medicine and the new formats whether they be highly concentrated formats like powders or liquids really build on top of that.

I do think that this is one of the areas where when you get in or when the consumer gets into it the there is some expanding choice that causes may be some level of consternation or confusion at first.

But once they really get into the category, then that confusion melts away and it’s really an excitement around discovery of new possibilities and a discovery of more effective formulations.

And again, highly pragmatic nature of beauty consumers looking at efficacy. And I do think that smaller brands can stand out and I think this is one of the areas as well as you mentioned with some of the new entrants that are coming in.

I mean some Japanese and Korean brands that have come into the market in the last 18 months.

You’ve just seen their Tmall sales really reach a new height and that’s partially driven because of their own core competency back in the home market plus the ability to be able to make some serious headway with a hero SKU that is I guess very well known in the Chinese market for particular properties or a particular format or a particular level of efficacy.

And this is what I’d be looking at as a sign of pretty clear encouragement. Yes, and then from some research that I’ve read a lot of younger consumers are coming into the category, post 95s 90s and I was really interested in different formats. Gummies are becoming quite populating.

It is lots of different town. There’s lots of different formats that people are looking at.

I think that’s an interesting space if brands are playing in that and they as you say strong in their home market with a good USP, then I think there’s definitely potential and I think it is something that Tmall also encouraging as well with the numbers of brands coming on to Tmall in the supplement space.

There’s been a lot in the last sort of 12 months. That’s right. You’re absolutely right and you touch on something that’s important to know is that it has moved away from let’s just say a very simple collagen powders and liquid collagen, there is an expanding space there. It does include fortified foods.

It wouldn’t be certainly wouldn’t be surprising in a few months that the NPD looks more like a lot of hydration style properties.

This idea of waters or infused waters. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a lot of that and so yes, very fast moving but you’re right there if you hit those key notes, you’ve got a shot, got an opportunity.

Yeah, and then the other thing that I thought was really interesting to chat to you about was male skincare in China because it’s something both skin care and makeup is something that we’ve seen a lot.


A year and a half ago there was already quite a lot of discussion about it, but it’s obviously evolved and I know that’s something that you’re particularly interested in also potentially doing a new research project on. I sort of wanted to get your take on.

That’s quite right. We’re really excited about the male beauty category generally. I mean everybody has seen the statistics –  growing faster than female beauty. We’ve got a number of different drivers for this.

Everyone’s got back basic insight, the key now is entry and if  you’re already here continued execution, and what’s exciting I think about the male consumer set is the different requirements in terms of assortment.

The idea that bundles is perhaps the dominant form of purchasing online. I do think that it’s an open question in terms of what those bundles contain. I don’t think that all the brands have got that quite right yet. I also think as well in terms of the packaging that if you look at and really spend time with these consumers, you’ll find that guys like a minimum of fuss.

And what that means I think from a format perspective is actually bigger formats and being able to be distinctive with larger formats rather than something that’s quite small and you have to replenish often.

Speaking of the replenish question, there might be some interesting pieces of innovation that we can do around that whether it’s something on the mobile device or something even a little bit more low-tech like a replenish button a little bit like one of those Amazon – buttons.

I do think that there is the opportunity to do lots of different things in this space, but what that’s predicated on is really understanding the consumer and understanding some of things I’ve talked about now as well as the jump.

When do you go from basic cleansing to higher requirements for hydration to something a little bit more sophisticated and again understanding those jumps is going to be really critical especially as more players come into the market and the emphasis will be on differentiation and differentiated competition.

To set up the research project as a small plug What we’re doing is we’re encouraging smaller male Beauty Brands to get in touch and the purpose of this piece of work is really just to lower the cost of smaller brands doing high quality research.

The idea is that we’ll be in touch with around 24 highly engaged male skin care consumers, we will run a survey and do expert interviews and the idea is to give a couple of different smaller brands in different verticals.

So it might be eyebrow pencils, might be BB cream, it could be something around cleansing to be able to give them the opportunity to have access to research that oftentimes cost quite a bit.

But by coming in together, we can lower the cost and I’m making sure that we’re all from different verticals. We all get the same questions that we want answered.

But at the same time we can be sure that the insights that you get are yours so that the category secrets that you have done are yours and yours alone.

That’s a piece of guess innovation that we’re bringing to the market in a post covid world.

We’re really excited about that. Traditionally women buy skincare and for their partners, but do you find now it’s more and more men buying for themselves. It’s becoming very different in terms of purchase behavior?

I think that’s an interesting question. I do think that it pays to spend time at the front line. Talking to whether it’s through yourself internally or whether it’s through a TP the customer service reps.

What inquiry volume are you getting around? Is this suitable for male consumers? What type of user is that request coming from?

All important information to try and work out when it comes to the purchase of let’s say products traditionally designed for female consumers how much male uptake do we have there?

And then the second thing as well is just to understand who’s buying. What does that gifting proportion look like and that will, in turn, I think inform how you package some of those things up including things like the product pack shots, the instructional videos, and the light it all cascades together, but really comes from spending. I’m on the front line and getting involved with those customers sales reps.

Yeah, and also sort of where they’re trying to find out this information obviously calling the brand, chatting to a brand on WeChat. But also are they looking at XiaohongShu (RED) or is that really still very female-dominated?

How do they find out about which products to buy I think that’s fascinating because traditionally it’s big brands right like L’Oreal men expert the ones have done a lot of advertising and they are front and centre but actually now it’s seemingly from from my research is that people are men are looking for more niche Brands.

They want to find something that is more suited to them but is more interesting and so how are they finding out that information?

I think that’s that’s something that brands really need to nail. That’s right those touch points and especially when that touch point of the storefront is removed for a lot of the guys.

Instead you’re sort of behind a screen and it’s a test and learn proposition. as the as the product comes to your door in an e-commerce parcel, in those situations those touch points become key and you’re quite right there are specific male need states that perhaps haven’t quite been fully addressed yet, like the exercise heavy, lots of sweat.

What does that mean, humidity given China’s Geographic vastness plays into that as well. Types of skin tones and underlying skin conditions there’s a lot of space but it does I think require to maybe go beyond a few of the sort of the reports and really get in there with your frontline sales staff or alternatively do some good old-fashioned consumer research.

Absolutely. Alright. Well, thank you Michael. That was so interesting and I think hopefully people will have many follow-up questions for you.

In terms of the best way to get in touch is that through LinkedIn?

Linkedin is my primary contact. You can find a lot of daily posts about all different things, the categories and the verticals that we’re interested in and a quick direct message to me you’ll generally receive a response within the same day.

Okay. Great. Yes, I would definitely recommend Michael’s LinkedIn there’s lots of interesting China facts and opinions and considerations.

Thank you so much for joining me today.Thank you appreciated Allie.

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