Yes, I’ll have some more walnuts and black sesame: the wintertime push for nutritional supplements in China

I’ll never forget the January scene I once witnessed at a foodstuffs store on Huaihai Road — Shanghai’s main shopping drag.

There they were, masses of people, lining up for this classic wonder supplement. No, it wasn’t Amway or Nuskin or even some hi-tech offering from a Chinese company. Just walnut and black sesame powder, that’s all. It was selling like gangbusters.

Heck, even we were there for the walnut and black sesame powder. Not surprising if you know anything about traditional Chinese medicine. These happen to have powerful nutritive properties and are best taken during the wintertime — as are many other supplements and foods popularized from traditional Chinese medicine. In fact, there is a saying in Chinese: dongling jinbu — roughly translated, it means that winter is the ideal time to boost your nutrition through taking supplements or simply foods prized for nutrition. That’s because it is believed that during winter, nutrition is best absorbed; what you do in winter may very well have an impact on your health throughout the year.

Walnut and sesame powder isn’t the only example. There’s a host of foods beloved for their medicinal value such as dried longans and litchees, tried and true ginseng, and even the jujube.

But perhaps the most curious aspect of dongling jinbu is the concepts themselves. I came to discover, for example, that women need to buxue — boost their blood. Men, on the other hand, have to think about bushenzi — boosting their kidneys. There’s also the ideas of bufei (boosting your lungs) or just buqi (boosting vital energy).

In my post about giving gifts in the Chinese New Year, I mentioned that supplements and nutritional products are a perennial favorite. No doubt the season plays a big role in that. And after all, if you’re going to send someone a gift, might as well make it fit the season.

What’s amazing is that this phenomenon isn’t limited to the senior folks. Everyone does it — or at least understands it. It is as natural as the changing of the seasons themselves. If you search Google News with the phrase “dongling jinbu” in China, you get over 100 results.

So what’s the takeaway here?

If you’re marketing a nutritional food/product, you don’t want to miss the winter. Make sure your audience understands where your product fits in the bu spectrum — is it good for buxue? Or something else?

Going to China for a business trip in the winter? There’s no more timely gift than a nutritional supplement/food. You’ll also get the opportunity to see these concepts in action, perhaps at the dinner table or the grocery stores. For example, people in China often eat hotpot — a steaming broth in the winter used to cook veggies and meats — and some of the broths have medicinal properties. Your hosts might just be impressed to find out you’ve discovered the joys of bu. 😉

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