Nestle's Maggi is back to the No. 1 position, commanding 57% market-share in the instant noodles category a year after resuming sales, post an unfortunate controversy. Suresh Narayanan, Chairman and MD, Nestle India Ltd tells us how the brand bounced back.
Q] The year 2015 was not the best year for Nestle and Maggi. But as they say, tougher the struggle, greater the triumph. What was your take-away from that phase?
I have actually been enormously humbled by two things. One, how much the brand Maggi meant to consumers. I must confess that despite being a part of the company for so long, I could never sense the importance the brand had in people’s lives. Maggi was almost like a human being, a part of their families and happy moments, it meant so much to them. Two, when some consumers came up to me and said, ‘We thank you for restoring Maggi’. I was delighted, because I had never thought that they loved the brand so dearly. Here was a product that was making a comeback, but then don’t brands come and go all the time? This episode proved to me that Maggi was much more. When a consumer takes the trouble to thank you, it’s a hugely gratifying moment, because the consumer doesn’t need to do that. He is doing it only because the brand means so much.
Q] You were called back from Manila to steer the company’s business out of crisis. How do you see your responsibility and role now?
It comprises the desire to see the brand achieve even more in terms of not only relationships with consumers, but also in terms of the ecosystem that the brand itself carries. Suppliers, farmers, distributors and distribution centres and so many thousand people are involved in the making of any of our brands. It’s almost like a missionary role that I see for myself now. If I am able to enhance the quality of these people’s lives and their jobs, it would be a small but significant contribution that I would be happy to make.
Q] When Maggi was going through a bad phase, many competitors took potshots at your brand in their commercials. Did that affect you?
There are different kinds of people in the world; some who play with the straight bat, others who do it differently. It’s not for me to go about changing individual behaviours. Like they say, in a difficult situation, it is not what happens to you, but what you do about it that matters. So, somebody took potshots at my brand, but my reaction was neither to get belligerent nor defensive. I preferred to plough my path and say what I am doing, because I was doing it with all the confidence, respect, dignity, and dedication.
Q] Within just four months of re-entering the market post the ban, Maggi topped the noodles chart again. Looking back, is there something you would like to tell your competitors?
The cultural tenets of Nestle are based on one core value and that is respect. Respect for self, for others, for diversity and for the future. These are our four manifestations of respect. When you say respect for others, it includes competitors. So it is not in my DNA or my company’s DNA to badmouth or to criticize competitors. It would not be an eye for an eye, as far as we are concerned. We won’t go back and say something ill about them. Nestle is a company with a 150-year-old record and has assets of values, purpose, contribution in nutrition, health, wealth and wellness. We also have more than 2,000 brands spread across the globe that are reaching out to consumers each minute, each day, each year. If I live to that cause, and that purpose, I don’t need to fear what others do. It’s only when I don’t live to those values and that purpose that I will have a problem. I hope I don’t live to see that.
Q] You recently launched a new range of noodles called Maggi Hot Heads. What kind of response has that got?
Hot Heads is a product that has come out of the inspiration that we have to offer different tastes and flavor dimensions to our consumers. The flavours we have introduced - peri-peri, barbeque pepper, green chilli and chilli chicken - are on the spicier side. It comes with a spice meter, and is targeted at the young consumer who likes to indulge in a bit of spice and enjoys variety in whatever they are doing. It’s too early to say whether it’s an unqualified success, but it certainly has seen an encouraging response in the marketplace.