Asian consumers increasingly viewing health supplements as "an investment rather than an expense" are driving growth in New Zealand's natural products industry, says the boss of Comvita's operations in China and Southeast Asia.

Bay of Plenty-based Comvita markets products including manuka honey lozenges and bee pollen capsules and operates more than 450 retail sites across Asia.

South Asia general manager Ronnie Butt said Asian healthcare systems were generally not as good as what New Zealanders were used to.

"A lot of Asian consumers are now seeing health supplements, or natural skincare products, as an investment rather than an expense," he said.


"They're thinking, 'I better go and buy something for my parents to keep them healthy otherwise I'll be in trouble when they get sick'."

Hong Kong-based Butt, who is in New Zealand this week to speak at the Natural Products NZ annual summit, said 10 or 15 years ago consumers in countries like China weren't so worried about their health.

"Now they're investing in their health," he said. "That's a big paradigm shift and that's why the market's growing so strongly."

Butt said China, where the natural products category was growing at 15 to 20 per cent a year, was the growth engine for the industry in Asia.

At the same time, ageing populations in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong were also driving growth, he said.

New Zealand's natural products industry earns annual revenue, including domestic sales, of around $1 billion. To compare, the wine industry contributes roughly $1.5 million to this country's economy annually.

Other big industry players include spirulina exporter Lifestream International, NZX-listed shark liver and Omega 3 oil maker SeaDragon and Manuka Health, which produces honeybee propolis and honey-based wound care products.

Butt said Asian consumers tended to be less cynical than their wes-tern counterparts about health supplements and other natural products.


Asian sales accounted for a third of Comvita's $96 million revenue in the year to March last year.