Maggi for me brings up warm memories of cooking on a hotplate in a hostel room, eating with friends at roadside hangouts, and more recently a hot breakfast to share with the family at our weekend cottage.  The thought that we may have unknowingly been consuming large quantities of lead during these fond memories isn’t quite pleasant.  What surprises me is their lack of response to these allegations.  Denial is all very well, but it won’t make the problem go away.

Here’s what I would do:

1.  Accept the allegations

Indians have crossed the point where they would blindly assume an MNC or foreign lab’s results as superior to labs approved by the government of India.  It isn’t just one lab so either it is a national conspiracy against the product or there is some issue with what is being measured.

Since you can’t beat them, join them.  Ask for Maggi India personnel to get involved with the testing.  Ask for third party witnesses.  Split the same samples across multiple labs.  Get TV crews involved.  Make it a very engaging and transparent process.

The Indian Army has its own food labs.  Has Maggi been tested there?  If that comes clear it would be a huge shot in the arm.

2. Show that you believe in your product

If Nestle believes that the product is safe and the allegations baseless, it would be wise to show their staff eating Maggi in the staff canteens.  The CEO and CMO should be on TV eating Maggi and explaining why the problem will not recur.

3. Invest in the Consumer

Nestle is not a stranger to voluntary recalls.  Since the writing on the wall is clear, do a temporary stop-sale (not recall) of the product till it is clear that the product is safe.   Yes, it is a big loss today.  But in the current scenario Maggi is losing 30 years of goodwill and future sales.  At least in states where the ban has not been invoked, replace stocks with a fresh batch.

4.  Root cause analysis

What would cause these results? Could it be variations in water? Contamination of the raw materials? Is it just one flavour or all? Can you provide samples from other countries for testing?

4. Educate the Consumer

You and I know that Maggi isn’t a meal replacement.  But advertising does position it as a healthy after-school meal.  What we need to tell consumers is the correct proportion of Maggi in their diet i.e. once a week or twice a week.  And that too with veggies added.  I’m not so concerned about the lead and MSG because it forms a very small part of our diet.  But if I ate it every day it would be a different story.

5. Global Messaging

Nestle is treating this as a local problem.  But Indians are everywhere!  Really big on social media! It would be a rude shock to consumers elsewhere if they discovered that Maggi was being withdrawn in India but continued in their countries.  You should say that as a precaution you were voluntarily testing samples in all countries.

So if you were CMO of Maggi India, what would you do? Share your views in the comments section, or write an article and mail it to me at paulwriter@pauwlriter.com

 

 

12 COMMENTS

  1. I would follow the VETA formula: Visibility, Empathy, Transparency, Alacrity
    Visibility – be out there in the public eye
    Empathy with consumers
    Transparency of action, sincerity of intent
    Alacrity of action

  2. As a global foods company Nestle will have in place a crisis management plan. This will not be the first time that any of their products has come under a cloud. Such a plan has a clear escalation & decision tree, and a communication plan. If there is no such plan for their business in India then they have just been naive, and I doubt that. Cadbury had done a great job a few years back in managing a similar crisis. Testing for lead in random samples can be completed in one day. Therefore, it is likely that there has been a failure in Nestle’s QA/QC. They should immediately recall their product, do fresh testing, aggressively communicate the results and then come to the market. The role of the channel partners is critical. The entire Nestle top team should be out in the market, talking to channel, media, government, NGOs and other key influencers.

    • Yes, isn’t it a surprise that they haven’t responded in the way that you have described? They still don’t seem to believe there is any problem going by their public statements

  3. Agree with your views, I think not speaking is reflecting now as a weakness of Nestle, being forthright and proactive would show them as responsible and caring too, specially when they have the means and are expected to have the wisdom to do so
    Children & Moms were part of their Ads always, why not anything now as an assurance for this TG, reports are trickling in and most are not consistent, are we to wait till all this settles in the lab, Maggi was made not in the labs why can’t the production capability be show cased, highlighting each ingredient as it goes in to get our Maggi in yellow packs, it would not only be an eye opener but much needed education that assures consumers MSG is not only in Maggi, we eat it in many other ways and its impact could still be the same. How is Maggi ‘healthy’ could be another communication that the Company could send out, keeping it realistic

    • great points. it would help to clarify how it is made and the care they take. but healthy? I don’t think they can actually prove that

  4. I agree with you. Maggi’s inaction has been confounding. In this age people don’t completely believe any media articles (there is always a niggling thought that these have been staged and a consipracy by some vested elements). They still Maggi the benefit of doubt. Maggi must use this insight to come out and show reports of how they have passed the stringent tests the other countries perform. And indeed if these allegations are true, they must apologize to kids (a to-the-kids communication) on how they have goofed up. and a promise from the CEO on how they will never let this happen in the future. the only way then to get the customers back is emotionally engaging them through various creative devices and hope like hell that they forgive 🙂

  5. In this world where bad news travels faster than light, unexpected damage for Nestle has been already done . To restore & foster confidence amongst millions of it’s customers ranging from college students, tourists , children & mobile Indians, it’s time for Nestle to re-visit it’s positioning of the brand. There is no doubt that the brand MAGGI has ruled the Indian kitchen for over 20 years and it has won millions of heart.

    With such a strong brand image, market reach & loyalists, Nestle has to only ensure that it comes out clear on the controversy .
    Step 1 –
    Detailed communication series by the Nestle India Executive Team
    Focusing on quality standards adhering to the guidelines by FCI
    Details of the ingredients and their composition (assuming that they are within the prescribed limits of FCI)
    Assurance to it’s die hard consumers that they are working on quality process improvement and will be back soon

    Assuming that Nestle is about to control the mass hysteria created by a single report by the above continuous engagement with the Indian Consumers, then it should follow it up with Step 2

    Step 2

    Revisit the positioning of Maggi by doing some soul search all over again by identifying the right target audience
    ->Find out why quick fix 2 minutes noodles has such a strong following
    ->Who are these followers
    ->Why they are addicted to Maggi
    ->Is there an alternative available
    ->How healthy are those options

    Change the whole branding, by changing the tagline, packaging so that the consumer disassociates the current negative publicity by witnessing a whole new avatar of Maggi.

    Plan the right messaging which focuses on quality process at each phase of procurement, production , packaging & warehouse management & supply chain ( distribution ) processes

    Engage with the target audience to be there brand ambassadors, so while the communication on all the other channels opens up, the word of mouth & the foot soldiers should not be ignored. There is where the message has to reach right.

    For eg –> The right target audience for Maggi areTourists who prefer eating Maggi than the other unhealthy street food available ( That means Maggi should reach out with a positive campaign in all the heavy tourists spots )
    ->Hostel Students who prefer Maggi over the canteen food
    ->Quick Fix Meal for upwardly mobile individuals in urban India

    The above is a very large base whom they can target by right messaging and do away with the positioning of Maggi being healthy. It can be positioned as Quick Fix 2 Minute Wholesome Meal.

    If the communication channels of Nestle engages in positive nurturing of it’s already large base of consumers and the Marketing & Branding team re-visits the positioning of MAGGI, then it has all the potential to stage a come back with vengeance.

    A country where we eat greens grown in sewage water, street food which has flies on it, throw garbage around and eat cut fruits near by, I am sure Maggi is far better option then all the above, all they need to do is have their CRACK TEAM get really cracking

  6. Agreed.
    A Question – would a documentary on how maggi is made help establish as a long term strategy. Something like megafactories. I know that the focus there is on the big machines and processes in place, but, wouldn’t it at least establish transparency?

  7. we should not forget that Indians are quite emotional about any news and that rationality takes back seat when media endorses some news. CEO( maggi) is doing the right thing by not being too much in news or justifying his stand. The ideal handling is to slowly react to the the situation and take media help in defining the product later . They should launch product like “Maggi natural” which should have some medicinal (protein or vitamins) value in it which may give new positioning to the product.They cannot move away from the brand Maggi as it has its own value..

  8. I have spent half my professional career in the food and beverage space and have watched and managed closely the pesticide controversy around soft drinks . I think that in the Indian context , it is very very important to put out a human face on FIRST PRIORITY when it comes to managing crisis of this kind. This face could be in the form of the CEO himself or herself being in the forefront on mass-media , discussion forums or interviews , it could even be in the form of a credible authority figure engaging the consumers on the issue and providing them with a counter point to deliberate on or even the front line team reaching out to the trade community with a structured communication that can then spread by word of mouth. I do think that in such situations , there is definitely an ‘escape velocity’ where beyond a point the horse has bolted …. it is critical to provide the consumer an alternate point or perspective to discuss the issue …. I think companies fail to understand that in todays context , disucss they will ….what you can influence is the content and not the right to do so . In not providing this human face , Nestle has lost out and while it may contest the issue and win , the Company has missed an opportunity to engage with loyal consumers who they could still have won over ….. now they just feel let down !

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