Planning to import supplements from China to North America, Europe or Australia? In this comprehensive guide, we cover everything importers must know when procuring the following types of supplements:
- Dietary substances
- Food additives
This is covered
- Part 1: Supplement Manufacturers in China
- Part 2: Supplement Regulations in the US, EU, and Australia
- Part 3: Ordering Process
Supplement Manufacturers in China
How do I find supplement manufacturers in China?
Alibaba.com is the primary supplier directories for sourcing supplement suppliers in any category. More than 1900 suppliers are listed on Alibaba.com in the following supplement factories:
- Sport Supplements
- Herbal Supplements
- Memory & Sleep Healthcare Products
- Milk Powder
While most supplement suppliers listed on Alibaba.com are based in Mainland China, you’ll also find suppliers from India, Japan, Europe, and the United States.
Where are most suppliers located?
Supplement suppliers, including traders, can be found in most Chinese provinces. That said, many suppliers in this industry are based in Xi’an, Shaanxi province. Shandong, a coastal province, is also a production hub for supplements and food additives.
The minimum order quantity requirement largely depends on the type of supplier. Some factories only produce supplement powder, while others deliver bottled and encapsulated supplements.
Further, trading companies tend to offer lower MOQ requirements than manufacturers.
Below follows a few examples:
- Supplement powder (factory): 1 metric ton
- Supplement powder (trader): 50 kilograms
- Supplement bottles (factory): 1000 pcs
- Supplement bottles (trader): 100 pcs
List of Trade Shows
Healthplex Expo (Official Website)
Held yearly in the National Exhibition and Convention Center in Shanghai, the trade show covers everything from supplements and traditional Chinese medicine to product packaging.
- 140,000 sqm Exhibition Area
- 1,800+ Exhibitors
- 100,000+ Buyers
- 60+ Countries / Regions
China International Health Industry Exhibition (Official Website)
China International Health Industry Exhibition (CIHIE) has been held annually since 2004. Unlike most other trade shows, CIHIE is held in not only one city, but three:
- Beijing: April
- Shanghai: August
- Chengdu: September
- Number of exhibitors: 1200+
- Venue area: 50,000 square meters
- Visitors: 64,925
Supplement Regulations in the US, EU, and Australia
Ensuring compliance when importing and selling supplements is critical. Keep in mind that regulators don’t go after foreign suppliers, but focus exclusively on domestic importers – in other words, you.
For example, this is what the FDA states on the official website:
Under existing law, including the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act passed by Congress in 1994, the FDA can take action to remove products from the market, but the agency must first establish that such products are adulterated (e.g., that the product is unsafe) or misbranded (e.g., that the labeling is false or misleading).
Don’t expect much guidance from your supplier. Instead, you must fully understand what compliance in this industry means in practical terms.
Supplement regulations cover everything from the introduction of new mixes and extracts placed on the market, to heavy metals and chemical content. For example, supplements that contain excessive amounts of heavy metals are illegal to import and sell. The only way to verify that your product is compliant is by sending a substance sample to a lab.
The US FDA and their counterparts in the EU and Australia are very strict when it comes to product labeling. At a minimum, you should expect to include the following information:
- Product name
- Net quantity
- Nutrition (if any)
- Ingredients list
- Name and place of manufacturer/importer
- Country of origin
Don’t expect, or allow, your supplier to create the label for you. While they may have some sort of label template, you must always verify that the label is fully compliant with the requirements in your country.
Incorrect labeling alone is a good enough reason for the customs authorities to destroy your goods, or market surveillance authorities to issue a forced recall order.
Food contact materials regulations apply to all materials in contact with products made for human consumption – including supplement packaging. The only way to be sure that your packaging is compliant is by sending a packaging sample (e.g. plastic jar or aluminum bag) to a lab.
Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP)
Substance testing is not enough when importing supplements. Regulators require that you verify that the supplier applies what is called Good Manufacturing Practice. At its core, the importer should verify that the supplier’s production facility is clean and up to standard.
It’s a complex topic, so I let this thrilling video explain what GMP is really about:
1. Product Specification
You always get what you specify in manufacturing, even when importing supplements. As suppliers can provide various types, qualities and mixes of a given product, you must prepare a product specification.
Assuming I’d buy creatine, a fitness supplement, I highly could use this (overly simplified) product specification:
- Product name: Micronized creatine monohydrate
- Assay: Minimum 99.9%
- Dosage Form: Powder
- Aluminum Bag
- Volume: 4000 grams (Powder)
- Design: Factory Standard
- Dimensions: Factory Standard
- Print Front Label: Creatine-label-front.ai
- Print Front Label: Creatine-label-back.ai
2. Supplier selection
The supplements supply chain is complex and involves the following stages:
- Farmers (Raw material)
- Processing (Powder)
- Supplement Encapsulation (Capsules)
- Bottling (Final Product)
The vast majority of suppliers don’t cover the entire supply chain, from farm to bottle. Some may only do processing, while others only encapsulant and bottle the product.
Understanding how your supplier operates is essential when importing supplements to the US or Europe, as product compliance is based on the principles of Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP). Importers simply cannot afford being left in the dark or make assumptions.
I recommend that you filter suppliers based on these criteria:
1. Product lab test reports
2. ISO Certificates
3. GMP Audit Reports / Factory Audit Report
You should ask them the following questions
1. Do you procure the raw material directly from the source?
2. Do you process the raw materials in your factory?
3. Do you encapsulate in your factory?
4. From which factory do you procure bottles?
5. Do you have an in-house factory lab?
6. Do you have a standardized testing protocol?
The supplier should also be able to provide batch test reports covering, for example, the following*
- Loss on drying
- Bulk density
- Heavy metals: As, Pb, Hg, Cd
- Total plate count
For obvious reasons, it’s absolutely essential that the supplier has the technical expertise and capability to run batch testing. This is one reason why I recommend that you completely avoid buying from trading companies.
*The required tests depends on the substance
You also need to request this information:
- Unit price (e.g. per kilogram, capsule or bottle)
- Sample price (e.g. per kilogram, capsule or bottle)
- Production time
- Sample delivery time
3. Product sample order
Once you’ve selected supplier it’s time to purchase product samples. At this stage you should’ve already verified the following:
- Unit price
- Sample cost
If you intend to buy packaging from a separate factory, you should submit the following:
- Packaging design (or images, if ODM)
- Material specification
- Compliance requirements (e.g. 21 CFR)
- Label file
Most supplement suppliers can provide in-stock samples within a week or two. However, the packaging might take longer in case you intend to purchase custom-designed packaging – which can take more than 60 days to deliver.
If you’re only out to test the market, I recommend that start with standard packaging.
4. Payment, quality check and lab testing
Once you’ve received the product samples it’s time to place your order. Before doing so, you need to prepare a sales agreement covering the following terms:
- Product specifications
- Packaging details
- Substance regulations
- GMP Requirements
- Label files
- Quality control terms
- Lab testing terms
- Production time
- Shipping terms
- Export packaging
- IP ownership terms
When importing supplements, the quality checks are normally limited to the following process:
- Weight check (e.g. X kgs per bag)
- Quantity check (e.g. X capsules per bottle)
- Packaging check
- Labeling check
- Drop tests
However, a quality control report will not tell you what’s inside the bags or bottles.
Material analysis and compliance tests cannot be done on-site in the factory by the quality inspection agent. But, he or she can collect batch samples for submission to the testing company.
Lab testing is a critical part of the process when importing supplements. It’s absolutely essential to verify that your supplements batch are compliant with all applicable substance regulations.
The only way to do so is by sending samples, collected by an independent third party, from the factory to an accredited lab testing company.
When booking a lab test, you must confirm the following:
- Substance composition
- Packaging material
- Destination market e.g. the United States)
As hinted above, you should test both the supplement substance and capsule (if any), and the packaging material.
After 7 to 10 days, you’ll receive a lab test report that shows whether your imported product is compliant. Hopefully, that’s going to be the case.
Do you want to import Supplements from Asia?
It can be hard to go from a design drawing to finished product. To help you manage the entire process – from creating a specification to sampling and quality control – we created a Starter Package:
a. Manufacturer Lists
b. Product Specification Templates
c. Label Samples (USA & EU)
d. Tutorials, Video Walkthroughs and Task Lists that guide you step-by-step through the entire process
In addition, you can also book quality inspections, lab testing and shipping directly from the platform. Click here to learn more.