A recent article in one of the dailies about Cofek (Consumers Federation of Kenya) requesting Kenya Bureau of Standards to order the recall of Nestlé’s Maggi noodles from the supermarkets until a thorough analysis of the product is made only served to deepen matters for the food and beverage multinational.
Cofek’s demand follows exposure by the Food Standards and Safety Authority of India (FSSAI) that the Maggi product exceeded acceptable levels of lead and included monosodium glutamate-that is unmentioned in the ingredients’ list, compelling the company to withdraw the sale of Maggi.
In a reactionary move, the Kenya Bureau of Standard (KEBS) has since had a meeting with the Nestlé local team-where the multinational was asked to recall the product from the market. Nakumatt, Naivas and Tuskys supermarkets heeded the call for voluntary withdrawal of the product. In the interim, Nestlé Kenya team has requested for an “urgent meeting” with Cofek in a bid to “explain” itself on the Maggi product.
But why did Nestlé have to wait until the story got out of hand? According to Integral PR Chairman Sharif Ragnerkar, quoted in PR WEEK, Maggi suffered due to its dominance in the market.
“I have seen several brands failing to engage with key stakeholders once they develop a ‘trust’ among consumers and virtually hold the market to ransom. This is when many brands stop engaging with the government and other authorities that matter. As a result, they have no ‘friends’ or any ‘advance warning’ that can change the status.”
So what should have been done differently? An analysis;
Visibility. At the very first few weeks when the scandal broke out, Nestle CEO Paul Buckle addressed a press conference in attempt to diffuse the damage. Rather than continue on communicating they stopped at this. Ideally, Nestlé should have launched a broad global communications offensive to reassure consumers. Tactics here would include media relations and interviews, company open houses, video releases, third-party endorsements and consumer hotlines. Remaining hushed or appearing removed, tends to enrage the public.
Empathy with consumers. Rather than come out defensive and counter-attacking, Nestlé should put itself in the shoes of it consumers and wider stakeholders. Generally, when people complain, it doesn’t mean they are nasty; it’s just that they have an issue, and all they want is for their voice to be heard.
Transparency. Seriously, if indeed the Maggi product contained lead elements, Nestlé should have eaten humble pie and admitted this publicly. Better yet, if Nestlé believed that the product is safe and the allegations are baseless, it would be wise to show off their staff eating Maggi in their food courts. The CEO and other Chief Marketing personnel should be on TV eating Maggi and explaining the problem will not recur.
Alacrity. Nestlé should have anticipated a worst-case scenario at the very onset. This would have enabled it to develop contingencies for the hours and days ahead, forecast possible consequences and determine plans for action.