Food manufacturers wanting to launch healthier products into China should look to recent moves from drinks makers, which have used traditional medicines in their new lines, local industry watchers have argued.

Sales of China's health and wellness food and beverages reached CNY172bn (US$25.19bn) last year, just 7% of China's total packaged food sales, according to Euromonitor. A large share went to beverage firms, particularly juices.

However, innovative dairy companies are catching up, introducing a spate of fortified yoghurts in recent months and turning China into the globe's second-largest market for probiotic drinking yoghurt.

Companies like Finland's Raisio, the Benecol maker, are eyeing China's fledgling functional food market, although at a conference on the sector in Beijing last week, food makers were warned bringing a new, functional ingredient into the market will require large advertising spend to educate consumers about how it works.

Ewa Hudson, health and wellness research manager at Euromonitor, said companies should look to the innovations in China's drinks industry where many manufacturers use traditional Chinese medicinal foods, already well known by consumers, to add value to products.

Mitch Barns, president of Nielsen China, agreed. "Consumers tend to trust products based on Chinese traditional foods or medicines, believing them to have fewer side-effects."

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