BANNED MAGGI RETURNS WITH A BANG
Why did it go amidst such a tearing and shameful hurry? How has it returned so smoothly? As the plot thickens, MONOJIT LAHIRI attempts to examine this lip-smacking mystery in 2 minutes!
When the Rs.1500 crore star performer of the Swiss-based Nestle group bouquet was blackballed in June 2015 by the FSTA, alleging it to be “unsafe and hazardous for consumption” loyalists – middle class India – were all shook up! For good reason.
Launched in 1982 by Food Specialities Maggi instant noodle – associated with Nestles – had several alternative positions at their beck n’ call: TV dinner. Mini meal. Tasty Chinese dish at home. Consumer research indicated the ideal one would be as a tasty, instant snack, made at home for kids. Moving away from the South East Asia concept of perceiving noodle as a meal, here it was consciously positioned as a snack because in the Indian mind a noodle can never replace rice or roti. Beginning with a How-to demo – since it was a new category, Indians had probably never really cooked noodles – it rocketed into popular imagination scripting a success story that was amazing! It was based on a few basic fundas. First, the convenience of convenience food with fun for both kid and mom. Second, the 2-minute zinger, focusing on the time factor, combined very smartly with Fast to Cook, Good to Eat that killed two birds with one stone: Speed and taste! Thirdly, place and time – usually after school/play, the kid is at his/ her hungriest. Lastly, the snack-thatcan- work-as-a-meal! So, suddenly the dreaded questions of all moms – Mummy, khaane mein kya hai and Mummy, bhook lagi hai were not so dreaded after all because the answer was bas, 2-minute?!
Nestle fought long & hard to counter the allegations but lost, promising to return – & today they seem to be back with a (decent) bang! Reports indicate that their new stocks were emptied out in two days flat! While the trade, admittedly, are hastening slowly [because there are large segments of the consumers who are sceptical, negative & cautious] fact is the “nostalgia factor” – with memories of childhood forever spicing it in delicious fashion – is too strong to let go. “Maggi is – like Amul, Bata, Cadbury and so many others – an intrinsic narrative of middle class India’s life & times” says social commentator Santosh Desai.
Sure, it was a deadly wake-up call, but then – point out media commentators – Maggi is not alone in its slander-andtriumphant comeback journey
Hindustan Levers’ popular Dalda brand that sold ‘vanaspati’ was India’s most loved desi ghee in the 40’s – 50’s. Controversy struck when there was a call to ban it because it was felt that it was not real but adulterated, hence harmful for health. Despite a committee being formed, nothing was proved. In 2003 customers in Mumbai complained about finding worms in Cadbury chocolates. Cadbury hotly denied it, but the deed was done and sales zoomed south. Panic struck, ads went off the air, P.R. activities went on an overdrive and an Ad campaign with the Big B – no less – as Brand spokesperson broke with appropriate sound n’ fury. It took time to regain normalcy, but smart damage control was done and soon, all was well. Even Rasna – the leader in the soft drink concentrate category – was hit by the BVO scandal in the early 90’s. The company pulled back, reformulated the drink, withdrew old stocks, made the right noises to trade & customers and promised customers that the new version was totally pure and refreshing.
Soon, loyal customers [I love you Rasna!] returned The Coke & Pepsis controversy – pesticide & toxicity – are too well to demand recall, but one very interesting fact does emerge from all these controversies: Every time, these scarred brands returned – they did so with more credibility! Can Maggi do the same enjoy the same brand equity and customer love & loyalty as it did pre-June 2015? Nestle India – suitably chastened after the media uproar & customer pull-out –is confident it can. It says it has conducted over 3500 tests representing 200 million packs in both national & international accredited labs and all reports are clear. Also countries like USA, UK, Singapore & Australia have found the noodles exported from India “perfectly safe for consumption.” Besides, all results from all three NABL accredited labs mandated by Bombay High Court to test the newly manufactured samples of Maggi, reveal the all clear sign. So, the message is – forget the past, look to the future and in 2 minutes, magical Maggi will be with you, once again! Nostalgia, emotional affinity, memories of school-college days, youthful fun and of course, the super convenience of Maggi noodles after all, make for an impossibly seductive recipe, very difficult to dismiss So, will Maggi (re)strike again and reclaim its place as Nestle’s much-loved top-selling brand and middle class India’s uncontested yummy India’s favourite comfort food? NTPC’s Publicity Manager, Deepna Mehta believes it’s all set to do a repeat of its success story because the premise of its ban was unclear. “The way the entire bantook place, with the regulatory bodies and media crucifying Nestles with all cylinders firing, was fishy. How come this sudden indiscretion and why did it take such a long time to emerge? For 3 decades, Maggi Noodles was considered fine; overnight problems were detected and now, six months later, the required actions & tests have been done, Maggi is back & it’s business as usual! C’mon, daal mein zaroor kuch kaala hain!” Veteran Ad LuminaryNargis Wadia – who presided over the once dazzling Interpub ad agency in the 60’s – 70’s – is next with her brand of scepticism.” To me, all this banning was suspect from day one! It was an obvious case of Nestle-Maggi bashing and intimidating the nervous target group – vulnerable middle class Indian mothers – to back off. Now they’ve kissed & made up and Maggi is back! It’s manipulation on an overdrive.”
Famed and celebrated photographer Raghu Rai is amused. “Why are you surprised? We live in the land of miracles where nothing is impossible. It’s all maya and Maggi’s now you see me, now you don’t act is a part of this magic. Njoy!” Kolkata-based social activist Ratnabali Roy wraps up this debate breathing fire and brimstone. “It’s a classic, devious, manipulative way of politicisingfood! By playing God, judge & jury the [so-called] Regulatory bodies threw Maggi out for the larger cause of health of India’s middle/lower middle class consumers. To begin with, shouldn’t the gentleman comprising these august bodies have been probed in terms of background, agenda & professional competency? Who’s to say there was no vested interest or wily competitor, quietly egging them on? Doesn’t the slam-bang way in which the entire [ban Maggi] issue was conducted – to the sane mind – provoke suspicion? And now suddenly, all is well and ache din has returned? It’s mockery of the worst kind”
As this dramatic comeback of Nestle’s star performer plays out against India’s hi-pitched, controversial Tolerance versus Intolerance debate, does the mass acceptance of a product so recently damned, demonstrate the divine sense of forgiveness and tolerance ingrained in the 5000 year old civilisation Bharatvasis?your view, esteemed reader