About 4 months backs, the nation mourned the withdrawal of its favorite instant noodles from the market. Nothing made our insides go Yippe, Knorr (pun intended!) did any amount of chicken coup heal our soul.
But after much hullabaloo, Nestlé India released a series of ads to let the country know that Maggi missed us as much as we missed Maggi. The commercials being a clear sign that the noodles would soon be sitting on our kitchen shelves!
And indeed, if fresh bulletins are to be believe, Nestle SA could start making Maggi noodles again in India as early as October, paving the way for the snack to go back on sale by the end of the year.
In May, Nestle was at the center of the country’s worst packaged food scare in a decade, when local regulators reported some packets of the popular noodles, sold at roadside stalls across India, contained unsafe levels of lead.
The company had to order a recall of the product a month later, which cost it about 66 million Swiss francs ($67.42 million). But in August, an Indian court ruled in favor of Nestle in its battle to overturn a nationwide ban on the noodles, although the popular snack will have to undergo more safety tests before it can go on sale again.
Nestlé India slumped in to a second-quarter loss after the noodle recall.
The court also questioned testing standards at the country’s food watchdog, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) . “The comeback of Maggi is clearly at the top of our agenda. This is a fourth of our business,” Suresh Narayanan, the newly appointed head of Nestlé’s Indian operations, said.
Nestle is now awaiting the results of fresh tests at court-appointed laboratories, expected by early October, after which it can begin manufacturing. And after yet more tests, sales can restart.
“I don’t have a magic wand,” Narayanan said, declining to give a date at which Maggi noodles will regain their position in the Indian market. “It is going to be a climb up.”
Narayanan now plans a 24/7 toll free consumer helpline, more active engagement on social media and a revitalization of what he described as “an organization in agony.” He will also need to restore links with hundreds of thousands of suppliers and the owners of almost 4 million stores across India, he said.
Narayanan, the first Indian-born head of Nestle India in 16 years, also said the company would engage more actively with regulators in the country that represents less than 2 percent of sales now, but has huge potential. He said the company would also work with industry rivals to enhance government testing processes and capabilities, adding talks were already underway.
“It could be common investments, it could be laboratories that will be set up with some kind of funding. It could be training,” he said.
Narayanan, who is five weeks into his new role as MD of Nestle India, also assured that the company is committed to engaging with the food safety regulator FSSAI on a “professional forward looking basis”.
“A lot of work needs to be done by the industry as a whole along with the regulator to define the infrastructure, protocol, safety standards, not just of noodles but standards of all processed foods,” he said.
“Nestle has taken a big hit, but this is a rallying point to define standards for putting out genuinely safe products using fair principles,” he added.
He called it a “golden moment” for the food processing industry as a whole to get its act together and contribute significantly to the ‘Make in India’ program.
He also said that nearly 7,200 employees of Nestle India have been engaged in alternate programmes and training and not one of them has lost his job. “We are keen to resume business,” he indicated. Five factories presently remain shut.
Besides, over 15,000 spice farmers, four lakh wheat farmers, 38 distribution centres, hundreds of distributors, suppliers, vendors, retailers and hawkers are impacted by the ban on Maggi noodles, he pointed out.
It has indeed been a rough 4 months. Not having anything to eat at 4 in the morning, being unable to ‘cook’ for ourselves and having vegetables. Just vegetables. It’s high time you came back man! We miss you.
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