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Chinese medicine maker Eu Yan Sang to launch plant-based Bak Foong menstruation pills in bid to win over millennial women

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 18/1/2020 Eric Ng
  • The iconic firm says the entirely plant-based version of its famous Bak Foong cure for menstrual pains is just as effective as the original, which contains deer antler and black bone chicken
  • A major challenge for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is winning over millennials, who tend to place a higher value on convenience and sustainability

Eu Yan Sang, the 140-year-old traditional Chinese medicine maker whose products for women and children are familiar to generations of Hong Kong people, aims to launch by year-end an entirely plant-based version of its famous Bak Foong menstruation pills in a bid to appeal to a younger consumer.

Designed to complement its existing product containing animal-based ingredients such as deer antler and black bone chicken, the plant version has been tested to deliver the same efficacy in alleviating menstrual pains and regulating the menstrual cycle, according to the firm.

a man wearing a suit and tie in front of a window: Aaron Boey, group chief executive of Singapore-based traditional Chinese medicine producer and retailer Eu Yan Sang. Photo: SCMP Pictures © SCMP Pictures Aaron Boey, group chief executive of Singapore-based traditional Chinese medicine producer and retailer Eu Yan Sang. Photo: SCMP Pictures

“The research and development of plant-based Bak Foong Pills is just part of our continued effort to innovate our products to reach a wider segment of consumers, including those preferring a non-animal-based option of health supplement,” said Aaron Boey, group chief executive of the Singapore-based company.

A major challenge for the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) industry is winning over millennials, who tend to place a higher value on convenience and sustainability.

“It is certainly true that younger consumers are gravitating towards western more than traditional Chinese remedies,” said Boey.

“While Eu Yan Sang is one of the most trusted TCM brands in the region, TCM itself is waning in terms of its relevance to younger consumers. There is work to be done in expanding the market.”

Although TCM uses natural ingredients, classic formulations still require parts from animals, some of which are protected or threatened species.

Eu Yan Sang said it complies with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of World Fauna and Flora in all signatory nations.

Of the more than 500 medicinal ingredients commonly used in TCM, around 45 are from animal or insect sources.

Eu Yan Sang is catering to some consumers’ preference for non-animal-based TCM products with its plant-based Bak Foong pills.

The company has worked with research institutions and universities to develop more innovative products.

In 2000, it collaborated with the Chinese University of Hong Kong on a three-year research project to investigate the pharmacological mechanisms underlying the effects of the Bak Foong pills.

The project led to the development of a new formula – Menoease, a product which helps to restore oestrogen production and maintain health during and after menopause. A clinical trial was conducted in 2005 to show its effectiveness in reducing hot flushes for menopausal Chinese women.

In 2003, Eu Yan Sang and CUHK’s Institute of Chinese Medicine co-developed an antiviral formula – Kang Du Bu Fei pills – for the prevention of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) that killed almost 300 people in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s herbal and traditional medicine retail sales reached US$510 million in 2018, having grown at an average rate of 3.8 per cent since 2010, according to market research provider Euromonitor International.

In the same period the industry grew 6.9 per cent in Malaysia and 4 per cent in Singapore, which are Eu Yan Sang’s core markets besides Hong Kong. The firm has 188 retail outlets. It makes most of its products in its own factories in Hong Kong and Malaysia.

The company aims to grow its presence in the consumer segments of mother and baby, women’s health, healthy ageing and healthy travelling, Boey said.

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