In the wake of the on-going Maggi controversy, The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has ordered testing of various noodles, pasta and macaroni brands to crackdown on contaminated food products. According to media reports, the companies whose products have been 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.
Commenting on this recent development, Pranesh Misra, Chairman & Managing Director, Brandscapes Worldwide said, “From the consumer’s perspective, if there is either a miscommunication or any harmful ingredient in the product, then other brands coming into the scanner is a good thing. But my question is- how accurate are the test protocols which are followed? Therefore, there should be a standardised testing mechanism, which should be used by everyone. Otherwise, the results might differ from state to state or even between bodies.”
Speaking on the same lines, Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder and CEO, Brand-Comm highlighted that the objective of the test is to benefit the consumers and if the product is safe or not. “My views are that every brand should come under the same scanner, and if there are better and stringent rules formed after the tests, then it needs to be welcomed. For some time I had the feeling that Maggi was being witch-hunted, which thankfully is no longer the case now. So it is actually a good move and everybody should conform to it,” he cited.
Lloyd Mathias, Chief Marketing Officer, HP pointed out that the only positive outcome of the Maggi controversy is that it has made everyone more aware about food safety standards and hopefully Indian consumers will be better protected in the future.
Nitin Mantri, President, PRCAI (Public Relations Consultants Association of India) and CEO, Avian Media, elaborated, “After the entire Maggi controversy, interference from the government was bound to happen. There was a need to find out if the other brands are following the guidelines or not. So government had to act and they can’t just single out on one brand, which was happening all this while.”
Things turned worse for Maggi, as the government dragged Nestle to the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) for "unfair trade practices and misleading advertisements" and may seek financial penalties among other actions. To add to this, Mumbai based NGO; Watchdog Foundation has also filed a criminal case against Nestle India and its nine directors. Over the weekend, there were reports of the Swiss giant spending Rs 445 core on 'advertising and sales promotion' last year, while the expenses towards 'quality testing' was less than 5% of such amounts was revealed and was shared on social media.
The company had earlier received lot of flak for its ‘dismissive; approach and ‘incompetency’ in handling a crisis situation.
Therefore, reportedly, as part of the damage control exercise, Nestle has roped in US- based public relation firm APCO World Wide and has also got back Shivani Hedge who was heading the Sri Lankan operations to India to rescue Maggi from sinking further. A press conference headed by Paul Bulcke, Global Chief Executive, Nestlé on 5th June declared Maggi noodles as safe, but still the company decided to take the product off the shelves nationwide.
Mantri from PRCAI explained that it is a very critical phase for Maggi. “Building trust back is a very difficult game, but it is not an impossible one. From now on, the brand should focus on how to regain the lost trust because from here, the entire controversy will only lead to logical conclusion,” he said. There were other reports, that Nestle has replaced all Maggi ads with Nescafe and KitKat commercials.
Sharing his thoughts on the brand revival of Maggi, Misra from Brandscapes Worldwide added, “Initially for the first couple of years, there will be a challenge. The impact will last for some time and the financial effect will also be stronger. But companies do tend to grow out of it and then regain the consumers’ confidence after such debacle. Maggi already enjoys a lot of good-will in the market, so this kind of positivity will help the brand to bounce back. When giants like Coke, Pepsi, and Cadbury have come out of similar crisis situations successfully, my question is ‘why will it be a problem for Maggi?’”
Talking about the international space, Nestle has recently got itself engulfed in a new controversy, where they have been receiving a lot of social media backlash in New Zealand post a recipe change for one of their popular products Milo. The taste is being criticised and is being compared to detergent, soap etc., and fans have also questioned the company that ‘Why change something that wasn’t broken?’ They have also opened a Facebook page titled ‘Change Milo Back to the old recipe’ which has got around 6,000 likes to plead the makers to do the needful.
In response to the growing tension and to manage further social media debacle, Nestle New Zealand came out with a statement saying that the company has removed vitamin A, B1 and magnesium, and added vitamin D, B3, B6, and B12, to "help active kids, and adults, perform at their best". It has also removed added artificial vanilla flavour as part of a move to make Milo as natural as possible. The company has elaborated that the core ingredients -milk powder, malted barley, cocoa and sugar –however, have not been changed. In the statement, Nestle has explained the reason behind the tweak in the original recipe and that the changes are part of their global commitment to make products more nutritious and better.