Suresh Narayanan, the new India chief of the $97.5 billion Swiss processed food giant Nestle, on Saturday said the popular instant noodle brand Maggi will be back on retail shelves as soon as possible, even as the company will launch more instant snacks and also focus on other areas of operations.
Narayanan, 55, who officially took charge of India operations on Saturday replacing managing director Etienne Benet who stepped down on July 25, said dairy, chocolates and confectioneries will all be in focus to push growth.
"All of this is part of the agenda," he said in a meeting with select media persons, adding that he will focus on five key areas.
"First focus is to get Maggi back. Then put the growth on other categories. Third, to engage more with stakeholders and authorities. Fourth, to improve focus and energies around the environment where we can do better. Finally, engage with our people (employees)," he said.
He also said that the company will launch instant alternate snacking options in India, but did not specify any timeframe for it.
During the hour-long interaction, Narayanan declined any direct comment on the controversy over the ban on Maggi noodles, over which Nestle has moved the Bombay High Court. "We have to get back Maggi on the shelves. As of now, the matter is sub judice. Everything depends on the outcome. Let's wait and see," he said.
He said the controversy had cast a shadow over the rest of Nestle's portfolio and the company will enhance its marketing and advertising activities to tide over the situation.
Having specifically flown in to India from Manila, where he was overseeing the Philippines operations as chairman, Narayanan said he had faced a host of challenges in his career and that the current one too would tide over.
The Bombay High Court is expected to deliver its verdict on the Maggi ban on Monday.
Asked whether the company management strategically roped in an Indian face, who speaks Hindi, to tide over the current crisis period, he said: "My being an Indian, my boss says, is icing on the cake. Since I can speak the Hindi language, I can feel the heartbeat of the people."
An alumnus of the Delhi School of Economics, Narayanan also allayed fears of any job cut in the company, which employs 7,200 people, anytime soon.
"Every single permanent employee has his job. The situation is not a pleasant one. We have redeployed people to other activities. We will overcome this. We are a people's company. My first task is to bring back people's confidence," he said.
"Maggi is a key part of our business. We will continue to be a part of this country as we have been for the last 100 years," said Narayanan, who has served Nestle for some 16 years, having joined the group in India in 1999.
Asked about the company's interaction with the government, the soft-spoken Nestle India chief, who began his international career in 2003, said: "We are constantly engaged with the authorities."
India's official food regulator on June 5 had banned the sale of Maggi after an allegedly high amount of lead and monosodium glutamate (MSG) were found in samples. Following that, Nestle withdrew all the variants of the noodle, while continuing to maintain that its products were safe.
At the same time, a number of other countries also found the noodle imported from India to be safe. The countries included Britain, Singapore and Canada.
For Nestle India, Maggi was the dominant brand under "prepared dishes and cooking aids" and accounted for 31.5 percent of the sales in 2014. Among the other three divisions, "milk products and nutrition" fetched 47.1 percent, followed by 12.2 percent from chocolates and confectionery" and 9.2 percent from beverages".
The Maggi unit saw a 1.8 percent increase in volumes in 2014 over the previous year and 8.1-percent rise in value at Rs.21.4 billion.