Launched by Nestle in 1982, Maggi noodles is a popular fast food dish that holds a whopping 90% share of the instant noodle market in India. However, Maggi’s 30-year-old journey hit a roadblock back in 2014.
Here are 5 points to understand how the Maggi noodles got into controversy:
1. Food inspectors put Maggi in a soup
The Maggi controversy began in March 2014, when a district food inspector in Uttar Pradesh sent samples of Maggi Noodles for routine tests. These tests revealed the presence of Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer, even though Maggi packets say the snack has “No Added MSG”. MSG in a limited quantity is harmless but if permissible levels are crossed, it can cause major health side-effects.
Additional tests in May showed up to 7 times the permissible amount of lead as well. Both lead and MSG have harmful side effects on health. While MSG can cause frequent headaches, excessive sweating, nausea and skin rashes, lead can be really harmful. As lead is a heavy metal, it’s often not excreted from the body. When accumulated in one’s body it can harm the liver and particularly kidney. Women and children are all the more vulnerable to lead as it can damage their nervous system.
Due to this, the UP Food and Drug Administration took Nestle to court. Meanwhile, the Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan ordered Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) to conduct nationwide tests on Maggi. When another lab test in Delhi showed similar results, the Delhi Government also filed a case against Nestle India.
2. After UP, other states across India jumped on the “Banned” wagon
Initially, the Delhi Government issued a 15-day ban on Maggi. Soon after, the states of Assam, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Telangana followed suit. This eventually led to a nationwide ban and Nestle was ordered to completely remove Maggi from the market.
Very quickly the controversy spread internationally. The Food Standards Agency investigated lead-content in Maggi brought to the UK from India, while exports to Africa were brought to an absolute standstill. This lead controversy resulted in a 60% fall in Nestle’s profits and 32% decrease in their sales. To make matters worse, the company was fined Rs.640 crore by Indian authorities.
3. Soon, Maggi was pulled off the shelves, but Nestle promised to come back
While investigations were going on, Nestle CEO Paul Bulcke claimed that no MSG was used in products which had labels saying “No added MSG”. He also insisted that Nestle would not pull Maggi from shelves in the UK or any other country. However, in India, the company agreed to withdraw stock worth Rs.320 crores from stores, paying a cement factory Rs.20 crores to burn down 30,000 tons of noodles. Despite being pulled off shelves, Maggi promised customers they would be back.
4. From Bollywood to the retail market, the ban affected many sectors
This Maggi controversy had quite a spill-over effect. FIR’s were filed against Preity Zinta, Amitabh Bachchan and Madhuri Dixit for supporting Maggi noodles and advertising it without adequate scrutiny. This caused a massive stir on social media. In the aftermath of the Maggi fiasco, competitor brands – Yippee Noodles, Knorr Soup, etc., faced a drop in sales too.
Retailers calculated an 80% hit in the instant noodle market. Reliance retail stores pulled down Maggi products along with products from 11 other noodle brands, replacing them with their Reliance-brand substitutes. Meanwhile, scores of loyal-Maggi eaters across the country were willingly paying up to Rs. 100 for leftover packets of noodles.
5. Maggi makes a healthy comeback
After months of appealing, the nationwide ban on Maggi was struck down by the Bombay High Court on 13th August 2015. The court criticized the lack of adequate procedures while issuing the ban and called into question the test results.
Nestle India appointed Suresh Narayanan as their new Managing Director to deal with the backlash of their biggest safety scare in history. Under his supervision and after an exile of 5 months, Maggi returned to the market. 2 of the 5 factories of Nestle Noodles are still shut due to state bans in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. According to the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) tests conducted in November, Maggi has cleared all 3 tests and soon sold over 60,000 packets.
Disastrous as this may have been for Nestle, this episode has been a timely highlight of poor food safety standards in India. The country needs to upgrade its food-testing laboratories, customers need to be made more aware of the side-effects of certain foods, and manufacturers should be made responsible for their supply-chain.