Ananya Pathak
Points of View

Can '2 minutes' Maggi crack ready-to-eat food category with its '4-minute' poha and upma?

In a world without house help, instant ready-to-eat meals are a saviour. Can Nestlé’s products in this space, launched last year, find new relevance today?

After having lured customers with its ‘2 minutes’ instant noodles, Nestlé expanded its ready-to-eat food portfolio with the launch of Maggi Poha and Upma last December (2019). The ‘add hot water and serve in 4 minutes’ breakfast options, launched in ‘on the go’ format, aim to provide convenience and taste to the the brand’s consumers, especially millennials.

Can '2 minutes' Maggi crack ready-to-eat food category with its '4-minute' poha and upma?

But Maggi is not the only brand in the category which is playing by these rules. Bengaluru-based MTR Foods has a ‘3-minute range’ of breakfast foods. The range includes two types of poha and upma, masala oats, and kesari halwa.

Last year, instant food brand Gits also introduced a range of ready-to-eat instant foods, including a cup-based poha product.

Home-grown brand iD Fresh Food has a range of ready-to-eat south-Indian staples, such as idli and dosa batter.

Given the current scenario, where most of us are still working from home, with no house help, the ready-to-eat instant food products sure have an added advantage. In such times, can Maggi really crack the category with its ‘minute’ game?

We reached out to industry experts to get their opinion on the same, and to check what, according to them, should be Nestlé’s selling point for the newly launched products in the event of an ad.

Edited excerpts:

Samar Singh Shekhawat, business consultant, and former CMO of United Breweries

When Nestlé launched Maggi, it knew that noodles were not really seen as nutritious food, but more of a junk food, or an indulgent snack that could be eaten anytime. So, it focused on the taste and quick preparation time - two minutes. We all know that Maggi noodles take more than two minutes to be prepared. However, the sheer convenience, and the fact that children loved it, overrode that overclaim.

Later on, when the chorus for healthy foods grew, it launched a communication showing Maggi noodles being eaten with chopped vegetables, etc., and several other initiatives, including the launch of new flavours. It has also ventured into masala oats. Again, oats are more nutritious, but have poor taste acceptance. And in India, people will never sacrifice taste for health. Hence, masala oats.

Samar Singh Shekhawat
Samar Singh Shekhawat

However, in the case of poha and upma, the nutrition facts of these two food items are well known. There is, therefore, not much concern around that. Also, the four-minute preparation time for an indigenous product (noodles were not indigenous to India, and the knowledge of preparation time was not as pervasive as that for poha and upma) may actually work against these products, in terms of credibility, considering that they are served as premixes in flights and at airports, etc., with a waiting time of eight minutes (or so, the flight crew will tell you).

I believe there are four reasons why it is doing what it is doing, and the first three could be highlighted in communication. One, it is an attempt to change the image of Maggi to a more wholesome, nutritious food company, in keeping with global and Indian food and snacking trends. Pepsico, Britannia, ITC, and even Marico are trying the same thing. Two, it realises that there is a branded products' market for these categories, and it doesn't have presence here.

Three, it is an attempt to take what are essentially South and West Indian preparations to all parts of the country. Four, it is an attempt to erase the memory of the issues around the 'lead in Maggi noodles' story that wreaked havoc with the brand a few years ago.

Venu Gopal Nair, advertising and branding Specialist, and CEO, Ideascape Communications

Poha and upma are already 'quick and easy' breakfast solutions in the Indian housewife's mind. She is willing to be told what noodles should taste like, but she's the authority on Indian dishes.

Venu Gopal Nair
Venu Gopal Nair

Maggi launched these two to test the waters, and it doesn't seem to have survived the test. Even 'rava' is being pushed more as a recipe than an actual pack. The recipe suggests 10 minutes, and not four. So, I am not sure the premise worked.

This expansion is a tough sell. If it's not the housewife, students in hostels are a possible target. But they have developed a 'taste history' of the products, and the expectations would be higher.

It doesn't look like Maggi is actively pursuing this anymore. Poha no longer features in the range. In fact, while rava and soya upma are available on the desktop site, there is no easy way to get to the recipe on the mobile version of the site. And, the packs don't feature anywhere.

Vidur Vyas, founder CEO, NorthSide, a strategy and execution company

Maggi was built on the two-minute solution to hunger. Over the years, its advertising has been built around the noodle format, which has made Maggi noodles locally relevant. But in doing so, it may have played down the two-minute side of the proposition.

Vidur Vyas
Vidur Vyas

Going forward, Maggi needs to choose between format innovation, keeping the two-minute solution to hunger as the core, or build the noodle format further with different forms, flavours, and cuisines. Doing both at the same time with the same intensity is difficult, and that is where the choice is. For exponential growth, entering the food space with convenience as a platform could be a future roadmap to explore aggressively.