Nestlé CEO confident of Maggi return after market withdrawal

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Investigations are continuing on MSG and lead in Maggi Noodles
Investigations are continuing on MSG and lead in Maggi Noodles

Related tags: Maggi noodles

The CEO of Nestlé has said he is confident Maggi Noodles will return “very soon” after they were withdrawn from the Indian market due to lead level concerns.

Paul Bulcke said the company is working with authorities to clarify the situation and added it was a “part of India” having been in the country for more than 100 years.

Nestlé India said the “unfounded concerns​” have led to an “environment of confusion for the consumer​” which prompted the withdrawal decision but insisted the product was safe.

The firm said it was not questioning the competency of Indian authorities. It added it does not agree with regulators on testing methodology and is in intense discussions with them and is open to government authorities inspecting Maggi factories.

UK and Canada investigation

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) is working with Nestlé UK and the European Commission to investigate a higher than expected levels of lead and undeclared Monosodium Glutamate (MSG).

The batch tested by the authorities in India, which was found to contain lead, was not sold in the UK.

Nestlé UK only imports masala flavour ‘Maggi 2 Minute Noodles’ from India. Other flavours are not imported from India, but from factories in other countries.

The agency said it will test for levels of lead in all Maggi Noodles as a precaution.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is investigating the possible presence of lead in Maggi brand noodle products imported by various firms. 

If affected products are identified as part of the investigation, a food recall warning will be issued.

Noted Indian violations

Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) said it advised various states to sample the product from authorised laboratories.

The agency had told the company to withdraw the nine approved variants of the instant noodles.

It follows sampling and testing by the state of Uttar Pradesh.

Noted Indian violations

FSSAI said three violations were noted: Lead in excess of maximum permissible levels of 2.5ppm, misleading labelling information reading “No added MSG” and release of a non-standardised product “Maggi Oats Masala Noodles with Tastemaker” without risk assessment and grant of product approval.

FSSAI said Nestlé India told it testing protocols had not been followed and interpreted correctly.

“The samples had been tested for each of the two components separately whereas it should have been tested as a combined end product, i.e. the form in which it is finally consumed,” ​said Nestlé India.

“The CFL Kolkata had also tested the product as a combined product but the results showed a very high level of lead because the samples remained open for a considerable period before being tested.”

Samples from the Utter Pradesh and CFL, Kolkata found presence of lead at 17.2ppm.

Tests from GNCT, Delhi in 10 out of 13 samples from different batches found lead in excess of the permissible levels.

FSSAI said the sample was tested separately for Noodle and the Tastemaker by CFL Kolkata and it is ‘wrong’ to say the sample remained in an open condition for about two months.

Nestlé India said it has submitted samples from almost 600 product batches to an external laboratory for independent analysis and tested samples from almost 1,000 batches at its accredited lab.

It said this represents around 125 million [12.5 Crore] packets. All the results show lead levels are well within the limits specified by food regulations.

The external laboratory is the Edward Food Research and Analysis Centre (EFRAC) and tests were done, at least in some examples, using an ICP-MS machine.

Market dominance

Lianne van den Bos, food analyst at Euromonitor International, said in India, Maggi is synonymous with noodles and completely dominates the market with 63% share in 2014.

“India is the second largest single market for Nestlé’s Maggi brand with retail sales worth US$623m in 2014 across noodles, table sauces and other products. Nestlé’s strategy in India has been to provide affordable products that cater to a wide consumer base (including tier 3 and 4 cities).

“This scandal is very damaging for Nestlé in the short run as it affects its whole business strategy in India. It should be pointed out, however, that Maggi has been around for a very long time in India and food scandals are frequent in the Indian market.  

“It will not be long until another comes along and distracts consumers (and the media) from the Maggi food scandal of 2015.”​ 

Related topics: Policy, Food safety, South Asia

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