Aishwarya Ramesh

Maggi's story: from inception to 40 years on

Nestle's Sangeeta Talwar was part of the team that brought Maggi into India. 40 years later, she tells the brand's story.

It was the first ready-to-cook snack/meal that found its way into Indian kitchens and its journey to get there has certainly been a memorable one. Nestle’s Maggi noodles is a mammoth brand in India today. It first made an appearance in India in 1983 – back then, India was a closed economy (liberalisation happened in 1991.) The retail sector was largely unorganised, there was no Chinese/Italian food eaten in Indian homes either.

Sangeetha Talwar, managing partner at Flyvision Consulting was a speaker at an event hosted by CXO Genie Masterclass. It traced the history of the brand in India and the challenges it faced. She worked at Nestle for over two decades, in addition to working at other well known brands like Tata Global Beverages and Mattel.

She joined the company in 1979 and she was helped introduce Maggi two minute noodles in the market. During her time at Nestle, she also introduced other brands like Polo, KitKat, Milo, Bar One and Maggi’s range of sauces.

Sangeeta Talwar
Sangeeta Talwar

She started the conference by giving listeners a context of the environment they had to introduce the product into. There was limited methods of marketing the product. Television as a medium existed, but viewership was extremely limited and there weren’t many channels to choose from.

Maggi’s brand name at the time was virtually unknown, and Talwar says that the team had to use what they called ‘big picture thinking’ to reach out to their audience. She explains that the biggest challenge at the time, was fitting a product like Maggi into what she calls India’s ‘Dal chawal-Roti’ culture.

She added that the advantage the product had was that there was no ‘quick cooing hot snacks’ in India before this. Food was largely tradition bound and so was snacking. Snacks mostly included items like samosas, vadas, kachoris etc which could not be prepared at a moment’s notice.

Talwar went on to say that though the children were the target audience, she was aware that the mother’s role was a gatekeeper was critical for this product’s success – and hence, the mother plays a critical role in most ads.

“Even in the situations portrayed, you had kids who were hungry and that was a huge challenge for us. Our challenge was that Maggi had to cater to pan – Indian tastes. It has to cater to a South Indian’s taste as much as a Punjabi’s,” she says.

The problem was that in India at the time, kids weren’t allowed to watch primetime television, so there was no way they could be reached. That’s why the team had to concentrate on the role that the retail front played since at that time, (since there was limited media they could advertise on.)

Talwar came across the idea of using a net to display the product when on a field trip to Malaysia. “To convince shopkeepers to take time off their busy day and hang up a net with maggi products in it, I got up on a stool myself and I showed them that if a woman in saree and high heels can do it, it’s easy and so can they,” she confides.

On the retail front, that wasn’t the only challenge that the brand faced. They were the first product to be sold in plastic packets whereas other products at the time were sold in tin cans. “There were rats in the warehouse and we had to find ways to stock the products in places where it would not be ruined by pests,” she confesses.

An effective way of reaching their TG – the kids – was to carry out promotional activities at schools, parks, and other places that children would frequent. After it was launched, the company met all its targets and increased promotion and manufacturing prowess, but the demand eventually for it eventually dipped. That’s when she emphasised on the importance of having a backup plan and to recalibrate targets according to the way the market reacts to you.

“In business, its important to have a concept of what I like to call ‘flyvision’. When you’re flying a flight and you’re 30,000 feet in the air, you have a bird’s eye view of the market and how your audience is reacting to your product. It’s important to keep that bigger picture in mind while working,” she concluded. Flyvision is also the name of the consultancy she has founded and manages.

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