Taking Maggi Noodles off the shelf in India — the best Nestle could do?

It was probably the best move Nestle India could have taken under the current circumstances.


For the past few days, my Twitter feed has always had a promoted tweet from Maggi’s account usually mirroring Nestle India’s claim that Maggi is perfectly safe for consumption. Probably, one of the many damage control steps taken by the company after the food regulator of Uttar Pradesh, UP FDA found lead & Monosodium glutamate higher than the permissible limits in April this year. This incident obviously resulted in a furore as one of the oldest known brand in the country was accused of being unsafe for consumption. This resulted in the company’s attempt to subdue this issue through their claims of Maggi Noodles being certified safe for consumption, both by internal & external agencies. But, consumers were hurt, the media worked on it in as a ‘Breaking News’ marquee, while state government officials started a race amongst themselves to test the product & confer it with a red or a green signal. Few state officials called it safe, few called it out unsafe while few other states went ahead to the extent of banning it outright.

What options did Nestle India have, when their words were largely ignored by consumers, media & the government officials alike? Late Thursday night, Nestle India issued a public statement withdrawing Maggi Noodles off the shelves while still maintaining their stand of the product being safe.

It was probably the best move Nestle India could have taken under the current circumstances.

Maggi Noodles — Then & Now.

Nestle introduced Maggi noodles in India more than 30 years back. Although, they may have never delivered on their promise of Maggi being cooked in 2 minutes flat, they did end up commoditizing the product category of instant noodles. Number of new player entered the category later— Top Ramen, Yippee, Foodles, Knorr Soupy Noodles to name just a few — yet Maggi till date remains the undisputed leader in this category.

Over time concerns have also been raised about Maggi noodles being unhealthy. It is not, till the time you don't make it part of your staple diet, then it is. Any packaged food in excess is obviously not very healthy. But the company has been working on these apprehensions with its smart tagline of Taste Bhi Health Bhi and introducing new healthy versions of their product viz. Maggi Aata noodles and the recent entrant Maggi Oats noodles.

Maggi Noodles was having a dream run in India until few weeks back when it hit the roadblock — a deadly one at that.

The furore.

For me, the entire episode of finding lead & MSG above permissible levels in Maggi Noodles & the subsequent imposing of ban on the product was a bit premature. A product loved, trusted & consumed for the past 30 years suddenly becomes unsafe for consumption because of a test failure on a small sample? I’m not falsifying the unsafe claims but banning the product outright was uncalled for. Imposing bans & issuing orders for recall should be treaded with caution. What resulted next was even more naive — legal cases on the band ambassadors of the product. Ho hum!

Media covered this issue with much vigor, as though majority of the people in India fed itself on Maggi day-in & day-out. Then there was social media — Twitter trends, Facebook posts and the resulting virality. Most of the trending tweets had memes & were supposed to be humorous. I even saw several hashtags — #Maggiban, #Maggiinasoup, #MaggiKeSideEffects, #ReplaceMovieNameWithMaggi — which clearly had some fun at the expense of this supposedly serious issue relating to public health. Social media, these days, is governed by a herd, I feel.

The government of different states took it upon themselves to test samples of Maggi Noodles in their respective states, thus joining in a race to give a green or a red signal to one of the most trusted brands till date. Clearly, brands are not built in a day but can be attempted to be destroyed in one.

Taking it off the shelf.

Amidst all the growing controversy, Nestle decided to take the product of the shelf. The official statement read —

Unfortunately, recent developments and unfounded concerns about the product have led to an environment of confusion for the consumer, to such an extent that we have decided to withdraw the product off the shelves. We promise that the trusted Maggi Noodles will be back in the market as soon as the current situation is clarified.

It was probably the best move Nestle India could have taken under these current circumstances.

Learning from the past.

Looking at the past, we can find quite a few similar incidents that have happened to well known brands — Cadbury Diary Milk with its worm controversy, Pepsi & Coca-Cola with its pesticide row, to name just a few in the food & consumable space itself.

Cadbury’s come back post that worm infestation issue, is a case-study well taught in our B-schools. Cadbury had then faced the the crisis situation head-on, even though Dairy Milk remained off the shelf for a substantial amount of time. It started with educating the retailers & wholesalers with Project Vishwas, investing substantially in machinery to improve the packaging and finally roping in brand ambassador Amitabh Bachchan to reinforce the credibility.

Now that Nestle has also decided to take Maggi Noodles off the shelf, it will have a significant amount of time to drill down to the root cause of the issue. Once the issue is underlined, it needs to made known to all and fixed, to earn the trust back from the consumers. It will, of course, be a long tedious task for Nestle.

Now, what happens to the brand Maggi?

Another significant thing to observe post this incident will be the consumer’s reaction to the brand Maggi itself. Yes, Maggi Noodles is off the shelf but what about the remaining products in the brand Maggi’s umbrella? Maggi in India itself had its brand extended to include Maggi Tomato Ketchup & other sauces, Maggi soups, Maggi Masala and Maggi Pazzta. Obviously some cautious people will stay away from these other Maggi products too, the sales will thus hit a low. But these products will remain on the shelf, keeping Maggi’s legacy alive while in its parent product’s absence. Hopefully.

People forgive, People forget.

But, people forgive, people forget. When the dust settles down on this issue in the next few weeks, when the media moves on to it’s next ‘Breaking News’, when the herd on social media takes up another topic to tear apart, Nestle India will get sufficient time to evaluate the leak in the system. They will have enough time to come back & claim that their Maggi Noodles is safe to consume. People will then forgive Maggi for the sake of its three decade old romance. People will then forget this ugly incident & move on.

We, as consumers, have done it before, we’ll do it again.

Maggi Noodles will be back!

Yes, it will be. Or else what will we call the instant noodles product— Yippee or Top Ramen? Nah, It’ll always be Maggi!

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