Optimum Nutrition, MuscleTech, and other brands of sports nutrition products are what we usually see in stores found in malls Malaysia like GNC. For the longest time, this has been the standard way of selling these products to Malaysian consumers, but recently eCommerce channels are starting to gain more prominence1.
What kind of fitness supplements are doing well in Malaysia? What are some factors behind people’s choice of fitness supplements, and what does eCommerce have to do with it? All this and more will be covered below.
For this article, the products covered under sports nutrition will follow those listed by Euromonitor1: Sports protein products which include sports protein powder, protein and energy bars and sports protein ready-to-drink (RTD); and sports non-protein products.
Malaysia is known as one of the Tiger Cub economies, meaning that it’s in the process of developing into a Tiger economy similar to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Malaysia has a high internet penetration2 rate at 83 per cent of the country, or 26 million out of 32 million people in Malaysia with internet access. Coupled with its established infrastructure, particularly in the West Coast of Malaysia and in the Klang Valley, eCommerce is poised to continue growing in Malaysia.
19.9 million Malaysian internet users have bought items online in 2019, with the market for online consumer goods purchases standing at US$ 3.68 billion as reported by We Are Social and Hootsuite’s latest Malaysia report in 20202.
The average annual income of a Malaysian household is higher than Southeast Asian counterparts like Thailand3, but lower than those of Singapore4 and Brunei5. Malaysia’s average annual household income currently falls between MYR 40,700 (US$ 10,000) and RM 101,000 (US$ 25,000)6. But recently, Malaysians have been feeling the pinch.
While Malaysia’s GDP per capita7 has been increasing over the years, the income gap8 between the rich and the poor has also been growing over the past two decades. This can also help to explain why tech-savvy Malaysian millennials who feel the squeeze of rising cost of living and stagnating wages love the promotions and cheaper prices offered by eCommerce platforms and apps. Millennials aged 25 – 34 make up the bulk of eCommerce users in the country according to Statista9 and are also similarly likely to use fitness apps10. We also cover Malaysians’ online consumer behaviour in more depth in our downloadable Malaysia eCommerce and shipping guide.
According to Euromonitor, the sports nutrition industry in Malaysia reached sales of MYR16 million (US$ 3.79 million) in 2019, with sales expected to grow at a 6 per cent current value CAGR to reach MYR21 million (US$ 4.79 million) in 2024. Out of all the products, sports protein powder drives the most sales, and is the fastest growing product type at 7% in 2019. 23 per cent of sports nutrition products are sold through eCommerce.
From here, growth in Malaysian eCommerce is likely to continue, with industry leaders like General Nutrition Centres (GNC) adding its online store to complement its strong brick-and-mortar sales channels. With that, we can go over some key consumer behaviours and trends driving sports nutrition eCommerce here in Malaysia.
Euromonitor’s report on sports nutrition in Malaysia10 highlights that Malaysians are taking more proactive steps to reduce their risk of developing lifestyle-related diseases like obesity, diabetes, and heart attack. In this case, many are dedicating more time each week to staying physically active. We also have a recent article covering the rising health consciousness trend in Malaysia too.
This increase in physical activity among Malaysians has also been tracked by Statista. In a 2018 study11, 43.05 per cent of Malaysian respondents exercised for 3 or more hours in 2016 which increased to 44.41 per cent in 2018.
However, staying healthy isn’t their only goal, personal image matters a lot to them too. A study by Allied Market Research12 showed that people tend to maximise their workouts – purchasing workout support products to aid in energy, endurance and performance, and for men in particular, protein products for strength and muscle toning13. The primary motivation for women to use these products is for weight loss. The same research also says that purchases of sports nutrition protein products are driven more by males rather than females.
In Malaysia, gym memberships can start at MYR 99 and go upwards of MYR 200 per month. Some are willing to go further in the name of staying fit, though. For those who can afford it, some Malaysians are willing to pay around MYR 120 or even up to MYR 1000 for a personal training session14.
All of this could help to explain why sports protein makes up MYR13.8 million of the MYR15.6 million sports nutrition market in Malaysia, or 88 per cent of the total sports nutrition market. The protein powder category itself makes up MYR 13 million of the Malaysian sports nutrition market, or 83 per cent of the market.
The top 5 brands in terms of market share are as follows1:
GNC stayed in the lead in 2019 due to successfully marketing a wide range of sports protein powders and also having strong brick-and-mortar store coverage in Malaysia, according to Euromonitor1. One example of a successful product launch would be when GNC launched Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Casein in 2019, while releasing a number of sports nutrition products under its own brand name. In their ‘protein & fitness’ category on their online store, the top product categories are ‘muscle recovery, weight gainers, and whey protein’.
One thing to note here is that these major brands tend to come from outside Malaysia. If you’d like to test demand for your online store in Malaysia before committing to sunk costs like warehousing, you could try cross-border shipping. Having a network partner who can help you navigate Malaysian customs while providing end-to-end international delivery services to your customers could aid you a lot in your foray into Malaysia’s sports nutrition eCommerce space.
While protein powders are still the leading category, Malaysians’ increasingly busy lifestyles are pushing demand for more convenient, ready-to-consume product types. As opposed to protein powder that needs preparation before consumption, formats like protein bars, cookies, or brownies could see higher demand1 soon.
Euromonitor also mentioned this resulted in more of these products being developed with various flavour options, like Birthday Cake or Strawberry Cheesecake for Quest Protein Bars. These products are usually sold in ready-to-consume format in gyms like Celebrity Fitness and Fitness First, although there are also some consumers who purchase these online. In some cases, some who purchase these online could also treat them as healthier snacks.
Many Malaysians take their health and fitness seriously and many turn to professional trainers for fitness and nutrition tips. On the other hand, some of them also visit sites like bodybuilding.com and Men’s Health for these tips too.
Based on research done using SEMRush and Similarweb, these two sites are at the top of the charts for keywords like ‘bodybuilding’ and ‘workout.’ Via SEMRush, bodybuilding.com gets 26,600 monthly search traffic from Malaysia while the figure for Men’s Health is 73,700.
Some also turn to online forums like Lowyat.net, Malaysia’s #50 most visited website according to Similarweb to ask questions on various topics, health and fitness included. Hot topics there include a ‘weight gain corner15’, weight loss and even a personal trainers list.
In one particular thread on how best to gain weight, some forum goers asked questions on the kinds of routines they needed to do, the kinds of food intake they should go for, and even asked for tips on how to best use different protein powders.
Some forum responses also recommended content they found useful like bodybuilding.com’s Complete Guide to Gaining Weight16, and Eating to Gain Mass17 while others also shared their experience with or recommended products or brands like Optimum Nutrition. It’s worth noting that bodybuilding.com is also an online storefront for sports nutrition products internationally.
This validates that Malaysians not only consume these types of health and fitness content but also share the ones they find most helpful and useful. Some also share their experiences and recommendations on various brands and online stores they’ve tried.
This ties in with vase.ai’s 2019 research18 which indicates that 71% of their Malaysian respondents rely on input from friends and family or other consumers when it comes to product and brand purchasing decisions.
From a quick visit to the forum, it can be gleaned that some vital factors that Malaysian sports and nutrition consumers look out for in stores and brands are:
Being quite price sensitive, some users shared their experiences of price increases for a particular product. Their sports nutrition product started at MYR 130, but when it went up to MYR 140 and eventually MYR 150, they decided to switch brands and stores. Malaysians also ask around to find out if certain stores or online stores that sell sports nutrition are affordable or have good deals. In this case, one user recommended Muscle Mania Club for its affordable prices.
If it’s a brand they haven’t heard of before, some want assurance that it’s been properly tested by medical companies like Labdoor. Labdoor offers supplement ratings and reviews. This is particularly important to those who have special dietary needs, such as being diabetic and ensuring that the product indeed is sugar-free19.
While on the lookout for great deals, savvy Malaysian consumers are wary of counterfeit goods and are sceptical of deals that seem too good to be true. For instance, if the product itself is sold too cheaply, they need reassurance that this isn’t some scam.
On forums, some seek the opinions of others on newer online stores selling these sports nutrition products and are willing to try those that others have positive opinions of. Some responses highlighted users would go as far as to call the manufacturer to cross-check the product’s batch number to confirm the authenticity of their products.
Malaysians taking their health and fitness more seriously spells a great opportunity for brands and online stores selling sports nutrition. Malaysian consumers of sports nutrition seek answers to specific fitness questions or how best to meet their goals, and producing content that they love and engage with can go a long way in building your brand.
However, don’t neglect user reviews and the overall user experience of using your product as they’re still important. Malaysians still heavily factor recommendations and reviews from others into their purchase decisions.
Don’t neglect shipping either as it’s a large part of the eCommerce experience. Look out for logistics service providers who are well-acquainted with Malaysia’s culture and shipping regulations to simplify your cross-border eCommerce shipping process, making it easier for you to expand your skincare eCommerce business in the country.
GNC, Malaysia’s sports nutrition industry leader by market share, has a strong network of brick-and-mortar stores all over Malaysia. This contributes to its brand recognition and also its market share, considering that 77 per cent1 of all sports nutrition sales were done offline in 2019. Malaysians still tend to use offline channels for the product variety and also for the professional advice of the shop assistants.
On the other hand, even GNC has recognised that online sales channels are vital and here to stay. They’re adopting an omni-channel strategy by complementing their brick-and-mortar stores with their online store called GNC Live Well. By going online, GNC joins other companies who are using online retailing in different ways1:
Malaysians, with an eye for good deals, are drawn to the frequent discounts and promotions provided by online stores and platforms like iherb, Shopee, and Lazada. Based on research by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission20, Malaysians are drawn to eCommerce for better prices (73 per cent) and for access to products variety (54.8 per cent). The convenience offered by this channel is another major factor, with 84.4 per cent of respondents from the survey citing it as their major motivation.
When it comes to channels like Shopee, Malaysian consumers also take the whole eCommerce journey seriously. One Shopee listing21 for a Muscletech Nitro-tech Whey Protein product had 2000 positive reviews – praising the store for its safe packaging and trustworthy deliveries.
In the end, it’s worth bearing in mind that the overall experience a consumer has with your brand at every touchpoint plays a role in whether they’ll return to your brand or store. Promotions and advertising on social media or through shareable content can attract attention in the beginning, but whether they trust your store and the product that you’re carrying is another thing.
Highlighting the authenticity of your products through certified lab-tests and providing assurance that the products are genuine can go a long way when selling online. Finally, having a seamless cross-border delivery helps to cap off a great customer experience. Considering that the delivery is the moment of truth for many online shoppers, ensure you’ve got a cross-border shipping partner with a strong network in key parts of Malaysia to give your customers the shopping experience they’ve always wanted.
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