“Food safety and quality are something we hold dearly,” said Suresh Narayanan, Chairman and Managing Director, Nestle India.
Sharing the company’s experience with The Hindu group of journalists on the lessons learnt from the Maggi ban saga, and its comeback, he said the 150-year-old Swiss company, which has been in India for more than a century, faced the challenge in its 103rd year of operation in the country.
The company was the first to introduce products such as condensed milk, Milkmaid; baby food, Cerelac; chocolate wafers, KitKat; and instant coffee, Nescafe, he said referring to its trendsetting over the years.
The Maggi ban was the “largest ever crisis faced by any consumer goods company and had global ramifications because of the digital age. But as we speak the brand which was declared dead in June 2015 is back on the shelves and is a market leader,” he said.
Referring to the crisis precipitated by some State government authorities and government referral labs claiming Maggi samples did not meet regulatory standards and the Food Safety authorities ordering it to pull the product off the shelves last year, he said “the company had booked losses of over ₹500 crore and over 2,000 of the companies’ suppliers, vendors and distributors had lost business for months as the brand went from “full throttle to zero,” in a matter of days.
Independent tests by a reputed lab, the Central Food Technology Research Institute, had proven the product was safe and vindicated Nestle’s stand and the issue had gone up to the Supreme Court.
“Reality is what happened to Nestle can happen to anybody. It was not unique to a particular circumstance or organisation,” he said.
The “Nestle had metamorphosed to be more agile and more responsive,” he said. It has also realised the importance of “early, strong intervention and interface with multiple agencies.”
It has put in place a customer care interface which is available 24×7 and has a multimedia presence.
It is also working closely with the food regulator.
It has deep rooted network in procurement and marketing.
The company procures milk from over 100,000 farmers in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan; it procures coffee from estates in Karnataka and a huge network of millers, wheat farmers, spice suppliers and has built its brand and trust. These had stood it in good stead during the crisis. “We are religious about food safety and quality,” he said.