Sunit Roy
Marketing

"We have a typical marketing budget for this product launch, but with different levers": Nestle's Maarten Geraets on Maggi HotHeads

A quick chat with Maarten Geraets, general manager, food, Nestle India, about the recently launched range HotHeads.

Nestle India recently launched some new flavours and varieties of Maggi Noodles, to make a huge comeback in the 'instant noodles' category. With the great promise of hot and spicy flavours, the brand targets youth and young adults, especially the millennials.

In an exclusive interview with afaqs!, Maarten Geraets, general manager, food, Nestle India, talks about the brand's strategy and the newly launched HotHeads range. Edited excerpts...

Why did you decide to launch the new range HotHeads and what prompted the decision? What need gap does it fill? And, what are you hoping it will do for brand Maggi?

"We have a typical marketing budget for this product launch, but with different levers": Nestle's Maarten Geraets on Maggi HotHeads
Brand Maggi has a consumer base that is spread across all age groups and the youth today are brand loyalists having grown up on Maggi Masala Noodles. While they love their 'Meri Masala Maggi', they also seek new taste experiences where 'spicy' and 'aspirational flavours' are stated needs from the category.

Was it born out of formal consumer research? What insights is it rooted in? Sure, the Indian palate is accustomed to spicy flavours, but what else gave you the confidence to go ahead with this move?

India's love for spicy food is well-known, with different pockets of the country especially responding favourably to the concept. While we test our concepts and products with relevant consumers across the country, the overwhelming response to Maggi's return to shelves and our over 30 years of experience in building the noodles category in India also gave us the confidence to launch these within seven months of making a come-back.

"We have a typical marketing budget for this product launch, but with different levers": Nestle's Maarten Geraets on Maggi HotHeads
But, why now? What is it about the current market conditions that make it the right time to experiment with this offering? What makes you confident the market is ready for it?

Indians, especially the millennials, with travel and out-of-home consumption, are exposed to many different sensory experiences which brands and categories need to keep up with in terms of their expectations. The youth and young adults are waiting to lap up new and relevant options from their favourite noodles brand which makes anytime, a good time to launch.

"We have a typical marketing budget for this product launch, but with different levers": Nestle's Maarten Geraets on Maggi HotHeads
The move is believed to be, in part, reactive to competitive forces (Ching's, especially) out there. To what extent is it reactive? To rephrase, is there merit in the analysis that while regular Maggi is more of a quick hunger fix (snack), HotHeads is the brand's way of targetting the lover of 'Indian Chinese' or 'Chindian' food (meal)?

We hope to provide new culinary experiences. Each variant under Maggi HotHeads has a specific ingredient story in it. For instance, the Peri Peri flavour has the spiciness from Red Chillies, while Barbeque Pepper has a smoky spicy black pepper taste and Green Chilli gets its level of spiciness from green chillies, and in fact, makes a great base for adding veggies and meat to make a delicious meal.

How did you zero in on the four flavours? How are these decisions taken? What's the process like?

We develop a concept at the beginning of new product development based on food trends, consumer interactions, and strategic imperatives, before we brief our trained chefs at either the factory and/or the R&D Centre at Manesar, which is part of Nestle's global R&D network. The chefs develop several product prototypes which we evaluate internally and test with consumers and sensory experts before rolling out to the market. That said, India is a huge country and we are keen to see which variant works best in which region.

What is the marketing budget for this new range?

We adopted a unique approach to marketing which was heavily digital-led where we created specific content with the 'unboxing' concept apart from TV and radio. We have also covered hoardings in malls, colleges, and bus queue shelters where the youth hang out. So, while it is a typical marketing budget for a large new product launch, the levers engaged are quite different from a classical Maggi launch.

Which geographies are you expecting maximum trials in?

Indians, everywhere, love spicy food, albeit at varying degrees of spice. Each variant comes at different levels of spice which are represented on our Chilli meter. While Andhra Pradesh may relish a 'Very Hot' 'Chilli Chicken', youngsters from Mumbai and Delhi may go for 'Peri Peri' and 'Barbeque Pepper', and those in Kolkata may prefer a helping of their loved and preferred 'Green Chilli'.