Its a worst nightmare come true for a marketer, the brand getting into a health controversy. India's favorite noodles brand Maggi landed in its biggest challenge of its life when the health officials from Uttarpradesh FDA asked the company to recall one batch of noodles of a suspected high levels monosodium glutamate (MSG).The news spread like a wildfire both in social media and mainstream media .
The company sprang into action by denying any addition of MSG to its noodles however with a caveat that glutamate may have occurred naturally to noodles because of some ingredients. ( really !). Another news that went viral is that Maggi Noodles contains excessive quantities of the metal lead and hence it is going to be banned. Again the company in its clarification says that they test noodles for lead content and it is within the permissible limit ( really !) .
Its a crisis for a brand which is having more than 70% share in the Indian market but with competition hotting up. A big blow to the brand which off late has been harping on health platform.
What is worrying is that the complaint has not originated from a consumer or an activist but by a government agency. Hence the perception of seriousness of the finding is more and the damage is also grave for the brand. The main stream media also cannot ignore the issue because it is from a government department. Another issue is that since it is a government department that initiated the complaint, the brand cannot hope for a speedy solution.
It is interesting to observe how Nestle has responded to the crisis. The first reaction would be of denial. The brand had denied the finding of MSG stating that it has not added MSG to the noodles. The entire episode was amplified in the social media and Nestle was also actively engaging the conversation in the social media. ( Read a good commentary by Karthik Srinivasan) . The twitter handle of the brand and the brand's micro-site has been updated with the brand's version of the events.
As Karthik has stated in the blog, the brand may be readying its brand ambassador Madhuri Dixit to convince the customer that it is safe to consume. Since Big B has also endorsed the brand, Nestle may rope him also since he already have experience in helping the brand survive such controversies ( pun intended).
It almost 24 days since the issue began. The brand may be waiting for an independent test by a lab for further action or is it waiting for the issue to die down ?
As a consumer since my child love noodles, there is a ban on noodles at home as of now. Because whether added or not, Nestle has confirmed presence of MSG or Glutamate and lead metal inside - whether within permissible limit or not . Ofcourse we will continue to eat other foods till it is found guilty.
So what will happen to Maggi ?
The consumer's memory is short. So he will forget all these after sometime. Can Maggi wait it out ! The brand already had commented that it will challenge the order.
The larger issue is of trust. If one read between the lines of the company's version ( here) there is an admission that the food is not healthy but it conforms to legal norms. The company already knew the presence of glutamate and lead in it but the news came out with the controversy. It would take sometime for Nestle to rebuild its trust especially the health positioning.
It would be interesting to see how Nestle would be handling this crisis. The current strategy seems to be waiting for further clarification from independent lab tests and government actions. Probably the company would be using the independent lab test to convince the customers that lead metal and MSG is within permissible limits and then continue telling stories of Taste Bhi , Health Bhi !.