Bolstered by the Bombay high court order overturning ban on Maggi, Nestle India plans to bring back the instant noodles back in the market by end of this year subject to certain clearances.
The company, which has taken a hit of Rs 450 crore, including destroying over 30,000 tonnes of the instant noodles since June when it was banned because of alleged excessive lead content, says it will continue with the existing formula of the product and not change the ingredients.
"We will try and target something that is better than that. My desire is to do it before that but let's see," Nestle India managing director Suresh Narayanan told PTI in an interaction when asked whether Maggi noodles could be back in the market by start of the next year.
He said as per court directives, this quarter it would go in for testing of Maggi samples at three independent laboratories in Punjab, Hyderabad and Jaipur which are accredited with National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL).
"By the time we get everything done (all clearances), it will be middle of September. I can tell you this quarter no, unlikely. Subsequent quarter, we will try (to bring back Maggi)," Narayanan said.
He said the company has to test the Maggi samples within six weeks and after that it would start manufacturing and then the noodles would be tested again.
Asked whether the recent problems would make the company change ingredients of the instant noodles, Narayanan replied in the negative saying "what has worked for 30 years" must work in future too, although the company would continue to work on innovation and add more variants in future.
Acknowledging that the ban has 'dented' the company, Narayanan said the company has to win back consumer confidence and will "spend aggressively" on rebuilding the brand from a "zero" level through customer engagement activities and advertisements.
When asked if the company would consider seeking damages from food regulators on the back of Bombay high court judgement, Narayanan remained non-committal said the company's focus would be to bring back Maggi as soon as possible, look ahead and move on while working together with authorities.
The consumer affairs ministry has filed a class action suit against Nestle India seeking about Rs 640 crore in damages for alleged unfair trade practices, false labeling and misleading advertisements.
It was for the first time that the ministry dragged a company to the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) using a provision in the nearly three-decade-old Consumer Protection Act.
Narayanan said the company was confident of defending itself as it has done in the Bombay high court, which lifted the ban imposed by food regulators on Maggi noodles while ordering a fresh test of samples in three independent laboratories across India.
Nestle India had reported a standalone loss of Rs 64.40 crore for the quarter ended June 30, 2015, its first quarterly loss in over three decades. It had posted a net profit of Rs 287.86 crore during the April-June quarter of FY 2014-15.
On questions raised by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) that why did Nestle destroy Maggi if it was safe and not export it, he said: "There was some confusion in the mind of consumers. We took a call that consumer trust is most important for us, we will withdraw everything. Once you withdraw what do you do do? Either you change the packaging and put it back in the market or you destroy it."
He said a lot of consumers at some stage had started asking the question about monosodium glutamate (MSG) as to whether it is an added chemical or does it occur naturally. "We explained that glutamic acid naturally exists in a lot of food products. We don't add it as a chemical or additive," he said.
The company had removed 'no added MSG' label from its packs when the controversy broke out in June.
On allegations of difference in Maggi's export and domestic consumption quality, Narayanan said: "Difference in exported product and Indian product is only of packaging. It is very difficult to export (Maggi meant for consumption in India) as the packaging is different in every country."
Narayanan had earlier stated that Nestle India would consider introducing new products, including those under the Maggi brand, while looking to drive growth of other categories with increased advertising spending, as it looks to overcome the setback from the ban on its flagship instant noodles.
In June, the FSSAI had banned Maggi noodles saying it was "unsafe and hazardous" for consumption after finding lead levels beyond permissible limits. The company had withdrawn the instant noodles from the market.