Maggi controversy might help in entrenching consumer activism in India

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JanPratinidhi
JanPratinidhi

Maggi controversy might help in entrenching consumer activism in India


Articles / Society & Culture   /   Jun 09, 2015
Kulbir Manhas
Kulbir Manhas
Kulbir writes about politics, social issues and technology. He has worked in an NGO for several years.

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For two weeks, there was a lot of drama around Nestle’s Maggi noodles, which were found to contain high levels of lead and other additives in tests carried out by several govern food testing labs. However, with the central food safety regulator directing the company to withdraw all the variants of the snack from the Indian market, the issue has for the time being cooled-off.

However, the episode around Maggi might help to highlight the concerns regarding packaged food in India. Packaged food being in an incipient stage in India, the consumers are not much aware about what goes into making such foods. Unlike customer in the West, Indian customers do not check out the ingredients, additives and other qualities of the food they buy.
 
Usually, the multinationals selling such food in India spend huge amounts of money in creating brand imagery. In fact, it is the reality of the modern consumer culture that we no longer buy the products but signs, created in the psyche of the consumer by clever advertising. Maggi has become synonymous with instant food served to hungry school-going children in the afternoon. Who has not seen the Maggi commercials with hungry kids baying for mom’s life? Presto! The happy clever mom produces the yummy noodles in time, with kids lapping it up.

On the other hand, Nestle has conducted its own tests which show that noodles are safe to eat. The company has also done many tests from the independent labs proving that Maggi noodles are in compliance with the Indian standards. The company has gone to court.

However, the issue has severely damaged the credibility of Nestle products in India. No doubt, the brand imagery of the product would take time to recover. There is no denying that the drama surrounding the issue has got many lessons for the Indian customer. 

For checking out the awareness of any customer, it is likely that any consumer you would pick and ask him whether he looks at the ingredients, the answer would be ‘no’.  However, lead is not listed as an ingredient in Maggi noodles.  It is possible that the metal might have come into the products through other ingredients like water. 

Over two decades, the instant noodles have become the most common snack in India. As the case would be fought in the court between Nestle and the Indian authorities, the proceedings are likely to leave an imprint on the mind of the Indian consumer.

It is time that consumer activism takes root in India. Otherwise, the multinationals like Nestle would keep selling products that are not in compliance with the Indian standard of foods. Occasionally, some proactive food inspector would stir up a Maggi-like episode; otherwise, it will be business as usual. With such uninformed customers, what else one can expect?  The companies would go to court and get a settlement and would be back in business.

However, the situation in the North America and Europe is different because of strong consumer activism.  As a result, the food brands are often forced to change the ingredients used in the food.  In the US, the food giant, Kraft, announced from next year that it would stop using artificial preservatives, and colors in its much-loved packaged macaroni and cheese that imparts it a neon orange shade.  Subway, sandwich chain, too has said that it would stop using artificial flavors, colors and preservatives. Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, both part of a major US food joint, Yum brands, have also announced that they would stop using artificial preservatives and colors.  

It is because of sustained consumer activism that such big food giants have accommodated the demands of the consumers.  Kraft’s decision was motivated by the Change.org petition signed by more than 360, 000 people. In the absence of such sustained activism on the part of the consumers, not even a single food giant has ever taken into account the food preferences of the customers.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and doesn’t reflect the official policy of Janpratinidhi. The views expressed here are those of the authors and doesn’t reflect the official policy of Janpratinidhi.
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