Maggi’s 2 minutes of hell
Since its launch in 1982, Maggi noodles have been the country’s favorite quick meal. Kids in particular love it and moms are happy to go because they can whip up a supposedly healthy meal in just two minutes. From eye-catching advertisements to its colorful packaging and claim to be nutritious and healthy, it has been one of the country’s best-known product brands with brand ambassadors like Bollywood superstars Amitabh Bachchan and Madhuri Dixit.
As a result, in 2015, Nestle’s best-known product held a whopping 63% share of India’s Rs 5,000 crore noodle market. Globally, too, it was a great success with estimated sales of over five billion packs each year.
Then, in April 2015, the bottom of Maggi’s success story fell.
It started in March 2014 with a routine check-up by a food inspector from the Food Safety and Drug Administration of the government of Uttar Pradesh, who sent a sample of Maggi’s sachet to be tested against l ‘No Added Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)’ Label Claim By itself, MSG is a fairly common amino acid often used as a food additive to enhance the flavor of Chinese food. Used in limited amounts, it is considered like pretty sure.
But when the results came back, there was a shock in store. The sample contained MSG. Further evidence came when the results of samples sent to the Central Food Laboratory in Calcutta in June 2014 returned, albeit a year later. In addition to confirming the presence of MSG, they revealed the even more damaging presence of high levels of lead. The 17.2 ppm (parts per million) found in the sample would be more than 1,000 times more than what Nestlé India had claimed.
Now the test results were in the headlines and Nestlé’s defense seemed too weak. Soon the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) kicked in and on June 5, 2015, the FSSAI asked Nestlé to recall the noodles.
The company has always claimed that the noodles are safe to eat, but in the face of regulatory pressure and consumer outcry, it had no choice but to resort to an immediate recall of Maggi from the market. Thousands of packages were pulled from shelves and destroyed over the next month.
In the meantime, samples tested in Bengaluru showed lead and arsenic levels to be within allowable limits, although there is no clarity yet on the MSG. The very next day, Nestlé India applied to the Bombay High Court for judicial review of the FSSAI ban and although its request for provisional measures was dismissed, the court allowed exports of Maggi noodles from India. Restrictions on domestic sales continued, however.
—Sundeep Khanna is a former editor and co-author of the recent Azim Premji: The Man Beyond the Billions. Views are personal
(Edited by : Ajay Vaishnav)
First publication: STI