Why are Indians so bureaucratic and lazy
Anyone looking back is amazed: That was a great Swiss conquest. Especially in India, where foreign companies have to overcome so many hurdles. Crippling bureaucracy, tax confusion, underdeveloped infrastructure. But there was no stopping the Maggi instant noodle from Nestlé. Within a quarter of a century she has managed to penetrate millions of Indian kitchens where she was not even known before. An amazing way. Some would call it a win-win situation.
A large corporation cashes in, millions of customers are full and satisfied. So all these years the two-minute noodle has gone very well. But then at the end of May the Indian food inspectorate sounded the alarm. And now everyone can see how such a painstakingly built market can collapse at lightning speed. Without it being possible to predict how long the crisis will last.
Indian authorities measured elevated lead levels in samples of Maggi noodles and then temporarily stopped sales of the product. For its part, Nestlé, which owns the Maggi brand, said the pasta was safe. The company, which also produces in India, referred to additional own investigations and tests commissioned by external laboratories, which could prove that its noodles meet the legal requirements.
But a quick resolution of the dispute is not in sight at the moment. And uncertainty has spread everywhere. Nestlé has now started to get the controversial food back in India and destroy noodles worth more than 44 million euros.
It is one of the largest product recalls the food sector has ever seen. The pasta from Maggi, of all things. In a 2014 survey, the brand was still among the top five in the trust of Indian consumers. And now the manufacturers are said to have suddenly slouched and brought lead-contaminated products onto the shelves? The dispute has shaken consumer confidence and the damage to the group grows as long as no solution is found.
And the extent of the possible health consequences for consumers, if the increased lead values should actually be confirmed, cannot yet be foreseen. A request to Nestlé about the regions from which the raw materials for the instant noodles made in India come from went unanswered.
Celebrities have already theatrically bid farewell to their last pot of noodles
But what has long been evident: Indians are already lacking quick noodles. It apparently made a more lasting impression on the Indian hearts and stomachs than some would have expected. It affects all regions of India, cities and villages, the poor and especially the growing middle class. And even some rich people are already showing withdrawal symptoms. You can see it in posts on social media where celebrities have theatrically said goodbye by spooning their last Maggi noodle pot and posting pictures of this memorable meal.
And what should all the Maggi mothers do now, without whose preference the triumphant advance of this fast food variant would have been unthinkable? The success of instant noodles can hardly be separated from the social change in India. Nestlé has seen and studied many such changes over the course of a century; the group is one of those who aspired to India at a very early stage and has shown staying power ever since.
The beginnings go back to the time before the First World War, at that time the Swiss sold their condensed milk after the merger with a competitor. Nestlé became known with the legendary Milkmaid. To this day she helps to conjure up all sorts of Indian desserts on the table.
Nestlé did not bring the instant noodle of the purchased company Maggi onto the Indian market until 1983. It was an experience that took some getting used to for the slow food masters there. But also one that went well with the social upheavals that were now changing India more and more. The columnist Bhattacharyya describes how the first advertising campaigns for the new two-minute noodle apparently hit a nerve. Because the spots demonstrated how mothers not only managed to look after their children lovingly, but also master a job, which was becoming more and more common in cities. "It was a liberating message for women," writes Bhattacharyya. Thank the noodle.
Last year, the Swiss food company Nestlé generated annual sales worldwide. Because of the ban on sales of Maggi noodles in India, food to the value of around 44 million euros will initially be destroyed. If the noodle business for Nestlé continues, then, according to estimates by an analyst, the group will face further losses of around 24 million euros per month. SZ
Stars of the Indian film industry made the noodle more and more popular in commercials. For example, the Bollywood actress Madhuri Dixit, who is at least as popular in India as Julia Roberts in the west. But since the noodle fell into disrepute, it has also scratched the image of the dance diva. That caught her and the other advertising stars pretty cold.
Maggi, which dominated around 80 percent of the instant noodle market until the crisis, also ventured into other areas, mobile cookshops in all regions discovered practical noodles, for example, which are besieged every day by office workers, rickshaw drivers and students who all have a quick, simple meal need.
The noodle did not stop at icy heights, where Indian and Pakistani soldiers have been watching for decades. The highest battlefield in the world is on the Siachen Glacier in divided Kashmir.
A tough job at 6,700 meters above sea level. The soldiers are happy when they at least get Siachen omelets on their plates. For this dish you only need one thing besides eggs and salt: Maggi noodles for the filling. The Indian armed forces have not yet revealed what will now serve as a replacement for the mountain troops after the ban.
As consumers look for alternatives, sudden noodle withdrawal is fueling social debates as well. A politician from the ruling Hindu nationalist party BJP thought out loud about why women of the younger generations had actually become so lazy and only served their children two-minute noodles. You experienced it differently, says the 49-year-old. She recommends boycotting all that instant food anyway.
Opposition politicians called the criticism of the two-minute mothers laughable and disrespectful. The dispute shows how closely the debates about the role of women are intertwined with the discussion about what to eat.
In India in particular, traditionalists often complain that the younger generations are no longer sufficiently reflecting on their own culinary traditions. The Maggi noodle also embodies the import of culture from the West and an attitude to life that does not meet with approval everywhere. But even less traditional Indians who pay attention to a balanced diet are not happy with the instant noodle cult.
Nestlé has now started collecting and destroying all of the controversial pasta packets. 27,420 tons, divided into 400 million parcels. This takes at least 40 days. 2500 trucks drive back and forth across the country to collect the goods and unload them in several cement factories, where they are then burned.
As long as business is dormant and the shelves remain empty, according to calculations by analyst Sanjay Manyal, this will cause losses of around 24 million euros per month.
For a large corporation like Nestlé with annual sales of around 75 billion euros in 2014, this can be managed over a short period of time. But more serious is the loss of trust, which cannot be made up so easily. So there's a lot at stake, maybe even the future of the company's entire Indian business. Nestlé boss Paul Bulcke, on the other hand, promises that the noodle will be back soon. "Good life, good food" is the group's slogan. But the Indians have to digest their shock first. Then we will see if they get an appetite for Maggi again.
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