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Is HUL's pre-emptive step to withdraw Knorr the right move?

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Is HUL's pre-emptive step to withdraw Knorr the right move?

Late Wednesday evening, Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) decided to withdraw its Knorr instant noodles from the market till the time it gets an approval from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). The FMCG giant has decided to stop production and sale of its Chinese range of instant noodles till such time as its application is approved by FSSAI. It also maintained that the discontinuance of manufacturing and sale of Chinese instant noodles is not on account of any safety or quality concerns.

But, however, this didn’t come as a surprise to many, considering what has been taking place in the noodles market for the last one month. HUL has been quick to exercise caution and immediately recall their products, learning lessons from the recent Maggi controversy. For the time being, things haven’t flared up and the company has also been prompt in acting.

On Monday, FSSAI brought the other noodles, pasta and macaroni brands under the scanner to crackdown on contaminated food products. According to media reports, the companies whose products are listed for testing are Nestle India (4 variants of "Maggi Nutilicious Pazzta with tastemakers), ITC (Yippee), Indo Nissin Food Ltd (Top Ramen), GSK Consumer Healthcare (Foodles), CG Foods India, Ruchi International (Koka) and AA Nutrition Ltd. Surprisingly, Knorr instant noodles did not even feature in that list.

Commenting on HUL’s move to withdraw Knorr from the market, Harish Bijoor, brand expert and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults said, “It will be wise to wait before FSSAI approval is in. But to that extent, HUL has played the game cautiously, as it must be.”

Samir Kumar, Head of Creative Strategy, Brand Harvest highlighted, “I feel that what HUL has done is actually a good thing and not an over-cautious step. When there is a kind of public un-surety in the market, it is a good thing for brands to become pro-active, because it helps them in the long run.”

The entire controversy kick-started on the back of the Maggi fiasco, where Nestle was forced to withdraw all their products from the market after FSSAI found monosodium glutamate (MSG) and lead more than the permissible limit. Post the crisis, social media was buzzing with negative news and Maggi kept trending for all the wrong reasons. Nestle was accused of being slow in responding to people’s queries and concerns and initially maintaining a very low and a dismissive tone, which did more harm to the brand.

To tackle the mess, US lobbyist APCO Worldwide was roped in and they hosted the press conference in Gurgaon with the Global Chief Executive of Nestle, Paul Bulcke. The outcome of the meeting was that, because of the negativity in the market, the company has decided to take the Maggi temporarily off the shelves. APCO is known in India for playing a role in changing the image of Gujarat, post the 2002 riots.

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Prior to joining Madison PR in 2012 Chaudhary was Group President Corporate Communications at Reliance Industries Limited.