Geneva, Jun 24: Nestle chief Paul Bulcke says he has drawn the lessons from India's shock ban on its Maggi instant noodles over a health scare and is now trying to salvage the image of the world's top food company.
Bulcke insisted that its hugely popular Maggi brand was 100 per cent safe, saying that packaged food was unfairly fingered by many around the world as a health risk. The Switzerland-based food giant's reputation took a bashing "because it's a big brand and that (ban) made a lot of waves," the Belgian chief executive told AFP in an interview.
India's food safety regulator on June 5 outlawed the product after it said tests showed the noodles contained excessive levels of lead. The largest food company by revenues is challenging the order and is in the process of destroying more than 27,000 tonnes of Maggi noodles after halting production -- a Herculean task given India's size.
The ban had led to USD 50.5 million worth of goods being withdrawn, the company said. Nestle had already announced it was pulling the product from sale when the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India imposed a ban following similar moves by some state governments.
"One can have facts on one's side but it's the perception that counts," Bulcke said, explaining the company's decision to withdraw and destroy the product. "Food has never been safer. But there is this perception and we have to work on that. We have to reconnect with consumers," he said.
According to Brand Finance, a consultancy firm, Maggi is set to lose over USD 200 million in brand value following the setback in India. Maggi was previously valued at USD 2.4 billion, Brand Finance said, adding that it had ranked the noodle manufacturer as the 23rd most valuable food brand in the world.
The ban in India could have devastating implications for Maggi in neighbouring countries where it is also very popular, experts warn. "The only thing that interests me is to have the product back as soon as possible and that things are cleared up," said Bulcke, who took over as Nestle's chief executive in 2008.
"We are doing all we can to make contact with Indian authorities at the earliest," he said, adding: "The product is safe." Nestle notched up sales of USD 14.4 billion in ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook meals last year, the third most profitable sector for the company after soft drinks and milk products and ice cream.