[UPDATE Dt: 27/5/15 ] Following this news, Maggi was banned as per news reports citing the reason as excess levels of MSG and lead found in one batch. Maggi has issued an explanation about the ban and recalling a batch that contained harmful levels of lead, in a Facebook post signed by ‘Team Maggi’. The noodles brand is denying all reports of a ban or a product recall, and asking fans to enjoy Maggi like they did before. Here’s a screenshot of the statement:
Nestlé’s instant noodle brand, Maggi has often been accused of having additives likes MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) considered as harmful for children. But this time things have gotten worse for the popular 2-minute noodle brand, which could face a ban in the country.
Per news reports, after some samples were found containing added MSG and lead in excess of the permissible limit, the Lucknow Food Safety and Drug Administration initiated an inquiry and written to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) in New Delhi seeking to cancel the license for Maggi. The state regulator has also asked FSSAI to order sampling of the product from across the country to check quality.
A Nestle spokesperson denied the addition of MSG to Maggi and reasoned that “glutamate, if present, may come from naturally occurring sources.” However, the presence of lead in Maggi came as a surprise to Nestle. The company explained “We monitor the lead content regularly as part of regulatory requirements, and tests at our own accredited laboratories as well as those by independent external accredited laboratories have consistently shown the results to be well within the permissible limit.”
Nestle hasn’t been notified of any countrywide ban on Maggi yet, meanwhile FSSAI has promised to take immediate cognizance and call for sampling from other states.
Social PR in danger?
The question is: what impact does this news have on the consumer? Would you still pick up your favourite Maggi at the store, or walk a few shelves away to pick up other competing instant noodles?
This isn’t the first time Maggi is finding itself under the scanner, or having to respond to consumer concerns regarding MSG. The instant noodle brand has a cookie-cutter response for every time this concern surfaces. Beyond that, it has come up with ‘healthier’ variants like wheat and Oats, and a campaign featuring brand ambassador, Madhuri Dixit to tell us that #HealthIsEnjoyable.
What we can witness is that concerned consumers have been flocking to the social media properties of Maggi for a clarification. The topmost question on their mind – is this news true, do you add MSG and lead?
— Maggi India (@MaggiIndia) May 11, 2015
For others, as in a social media crisis, there is panic spreading of the news. While the brand is busy with its ‘Mom knows best’ campaign, all it has been doing to address these concerns is sharing the approved standard response with all those sharing the news item – “We do not add MSG to MAGGI noodles. Some ingredients may contain naturally occurring Glutamate, which can be mistaken for MSG.”
As pointed out by Karthik Srinivasan in his blog, this kind of auto-response is awkward. A process-driven team cannot make out the context in which the social conversations are happening. Just because there is ‘Maggi’ and ‘MSG’ in the same tweet, doesn’t mean the person sharing the news is of the same opinion. Social media cannot be used like broadcast media and needs more than a mass auto-response mechanism to tackle the crisis.
In fact, the Maggi PR disaster management tool (if there is any) failed to catch his ‘MSG’ joke; he too was given the auto response!
Maggi would need to be honest in its approach and eager to address consumer concerns if it really does not add MSG and lead. Cookie-cutter responses, like the ones it has been giving earlier too, highlight its unwillingness to go the long way in consumer connect. The brand hopes the news will die a natural death, like it has many times earlier, and things will be back to normal. Loyal fans would be sharing pictures of their favourite Maggi recipes and the brand would reshare them on its social media pages, in the name of fan engagement.
Not the type for being nominated as a ‘great brand’. The once-upon-a-time largest selling noodles in India started losing its market share over the years, but has picked up this year by stressing on ‘a balanced nutrition and an active lifestyle’ in its brand communication. In case, it fails to respond tactfully this time too, all the positive sentiments built by its ‘Health is enjoyable’ campaign will go down the drain.
Time and again, Maggi has proved it doesn’t care much for consumer opinion in India, but a look at its falling sales earlier should trigger the necessary change of attitude.