News anchor: The food manufacturer, Nestle India, says it will destroy 50 million dollars worth of Instant Noodles after the product was banned in the country. Food safety officials in India said recent tests on the popular Maggi Noodle brand, found excessive levels of lead and MSG Mono sodium-glutamate. The brand started recalling the packets at the beginning of the month and says it will take at least 40 days to destroy them. How big a task is that? Let's just have a quick look.
So Maggi Noodles are sold in three and a half million shops across India. Nestle is recalling nearly 28,000 tonnes of them, which we think is the equivalent of 738 million standard size packets. We put our producers to good work here. The packets will be taken to 38 distribution centers across the country to be destroyed. Well, the BBC's Patiksha Gilgal is in the Delhi where packets of the noodles have already vanished from the shops and schools.
Patiksha: Stalls like these could be seen selling Maggi Noodles until a few weeks ago. And this stall here used to even cook it for customers, but of course, that's not possible anymore. Because of the ban by India's food safety regulator. Nestle now says it's going to destroy 50 million dollars worth of its hugely popular instant noodles. And has started withdrawing from shops like these, as well as its distribution centers and factories.
Nestle says it's a mammoth task, hugely expensive and time consuming. The company still insists that the noodles are safe and is challenging the ban. It has asked to see the results of the laboratory tests and promised to return Maggi Noodles to store shelves soon. The instant noodles remain hugely popular in India, ever since they were introduced in the 1980s. Not only because they are easy to cook, but also because they're extremely cheap.
News anchor: Well, with me at the studio is Allyson Stewart-Allen, the Chief Executive of the International Marketing Partners, which advises international brands on how to deal with problems. This could be something of a collector's item.
News anchor: Or certainly in India. How well are Nestle dealing with this?
Allyson: Well, they're reacting quickly and first piece of advice you would give any company in this situation is to be fast, be open, be transparent, tell people what your plan is. The classic case study comes from America back in the late 70s, early 80s with Tylenol. Johnson and Johnson product in those days, they were very quick to take the product off the shelves but the challenge you have then and the challenge you have now is locating all of the variety of packs that are in homes, that are in stores, that are in depots, that are in transit. It's no small undertaking.
News anchor: But isn't the essential problem here for Nestle that they challenge this? They are saying that this noodles are absolutely fine. We don't agree with you, there's no MSG, and there isn't too much lead. Wouldn't it be better for them just to say, "Okay, we accept these findings." And do it quickly? Isn't there a confusion now, because they disagree?
Allyson: Well, perhaps the grounds on which they are disagreeing are that maybe their lab tests have shown that there aren't elements of lead or MSG. Regardless, you have to take action because you have…
News anchor: But they are doing it reluctantly, aren't they? Either they are unsafe for human consumption or they're not.
Allyson: I don't think either of us know the answer to this unfortunately, but what we do know is that the perception from the consumer is that these noodles are tainted. And if that's the perception, then that is reality and you as a brand owner, regardless of whether you're in package goods like noodles, you're in beer, you're in soft drinks, it doesn't matter.
News anchor: So thus far, you think that they are doing this quickly but potentially, if they don't, and if it goes wrong, they are going to take a big hit reputationally, aren't they?
Allyson: They are, but the issue that Nestle have therefore, in trying to protect their reputation, is they're in many product categories. So they're in coffee, so if suddenly the consumer thinks, in this global connected world, that in India this is an issue, then maybe my coffee in London or my coffee brand in anywhere else in the world, made by this company could be at risk. My candy bar could be at risk.
News anchor: If they are destroying . . . I think they're destroying cement factories, aren't they?
News anchor: And then turning that into fuel. Is that something that you'd advice they should televise, film, get it out there to reassure the public that this is being done?
Allyson: Well, there is footage already out there of them destroying the noodles and taking them in large lorries and trucks and getting them to these incineration plants. What needs to still happen is that the leadership of this business, whether its the Chief Executive - preferably the Chief Executive - is front and center saying, "We're tackling this problem. Here's what we're doing. We're reassuring you and we wanna keep your trust."
News anchor: But they've had plenty of time to do that, haven't they? I think this was about a week ago, when this first came out.
Allyson: Yes, well there are spokespeople on behalf of this company, who are in the news, but they have to stay there. You can't just make one announcement and retreat. You have to be constantly reassuring your consumer that these are the steps that you're taking to make sure this will not happen again, to make sure that you've got quality controls in place, and to reassure. Because the cost-, well the price you've paid or the amount you've invested in creating these brands is phenomenal.
News anchor: Yeah, and just briefly, if it is all a storm in a wok, and they get the tests back which actually prove that they are fit and edible for human consumption, they need to get that message out as quickly as possible. Would you think it's been too late to leave so much now?
Allyson: Well I think they'll do . . . they'll try, but I think they are on a hiding-to-nothing frankly because once you've sown doubt in the mind of your customer, that's it. The doubt is there. So the only way you're gonna get it back is by demonstrating you're taking those concerns seriously, and you're going to refresh the product, even if there never was lead, there never was MSG, there never was any other toxin but you have to demonstrate you're taking action.
News anchor: Okay, Allyson, very interesting to talk to you. Thank you for joining us on the BBC News Channel