Maggi is liquid gold. Maggi is curry-flavored magic. It’s my childhood in one bowl. Maggi is great when it’s soupy and without broth. It can also be eaten straight from the fridge. Maggi is a brick of instant noodles, which you heat in boiling water and then add a flavor powder. It tastes like turmeric and provides 2,000% of your daily sodium intake. Maggi 2-Minute noodles are a hit.
Maggi was born in Switzerland and later bought by Nestle in Switzerland. Maggi began exporting to India in 1983 after India became independent from the colonial British. Maggi had a loyal, frantic consumer base in metro India by the beginning of the 2000s. Maggi’s curry flavor needs to be clarified. I don’t think any Indian curry bears even a slight resemblance to it. I assume it’s the European-adjacent brand nuclear yellow curry. It is heavy on “curry powder” but low in flavor. Maggi’s appeal lies in its flexibility — I don’t know anyone who eats Maggi the way it is. It’s a favorite of my friends. They add red chile powder and fried garlic to it. My mom makes hers with cut-up hotdogs. My favorite way to eat mine was with peanuts and ketchup. These dishes have become a strong marketing tool for generations.
Maggi was also the subject of a vast food safety scandal in 2015. Maggi’s noodles were allegedly found to be high-lead content. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) issued a short, nationwide ban for all Maggi products. Nestle India has maintained that the product is safe and that it’s testing at the time showed levels in Maggi Noodles to be within acceptable limits. Despite the negative press, Maggi still enjoys a loyal fan base.
Customers would often ask Hungry Head if they were still serving Prohibition-style noodles during the ban.
Street vendors sell Maggi in curry broth from Delhi to Mumbai. Students and professionals from colleges and universities congregate in cafes to enjoy chai, noodles, and other prepared foods, such as fried eggs, crispy onions, bright red chili pepper sauce, and whole-fried eggs. Standard offerings include butter chicken Maggi and tandoori Maggi. The noodles are enriched with meat, vegetables, and spices from Indo-Chinese and Indian cooking.
Many fast-casual restaurants offer a Maggi samosa with noodles instead of potato filling. The Pure Milk Center in Mumbai popularized Maggi dosa, a thin crepe stuffed with Maggi noodles and cheese. Hungry Head, a Mumbai restaurant chain, created Misal Maggi. This is a remake of Maharashtrian’s classic Misal Pav. It features crispy-baked Maggi replacing the crunchy sev. The restaurant also offers a Maggi Bhel, a riff on the traditional puffed rice snack. There’s even a comprehensive menu that focuses exclusively on Maggi noodle mashups.
Nestle was not too concerned when Hungry Head opened its first Mumbai location. Although technically, no restaurant can use the Maggi trademarked logo in its branding and promotion. Hungry Head received legal permission in the form of a memorandum authorizing the use of the logo with minor modifications. Since then, the restaurant has incorporated the Maggi(tm) copyrighted logo into its Magizza, Magburger, and Magbhel.
Arpit Kabra, Hungry Head chef, says, “When we became popular in Bombay,” with a touch of pride. Hungry Head was a caterer for Nestle’s corporate events. But Nestle changed its strategy after a while and opened small kiosks called Maggi hotspots “after our success, as well as our experimentation with Maggi,” Kabra explains. Hotspots were designed to attract consumers’ attention in what Nestle called “the out-of-home space,” a strategy to attract the same diners as street stalls for years.
In June 2015, the scandal broke. A local food-quality laboratory found that Maggi had shockingly high levels of lead. The sample also contained monosodium glutamate. Even though Maggi’s package stated that it did not contain MSG, an inspection was conducted. The news spread quickly, and states began to ban the noodles. The scandal received scathing media coverage. News personalities debated the possibility of corruption or interference by a political party, the threats posed in India by Western corporations, and the vulnerability of India’s children, a key Maggi demographic.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India ordered a nationwide recall of all Maggi products.
India’s culinary landscape was devastated without Maggi. Kabra says, “We had to face the Maggi ban.” “We survived with the loyalty and trust of our customers.” Hungry Head created a new menu that included pasta, fried rice, and other non-noodle options. We added other dishes to compensate those who needed more time to eat Maggi.
Nestle petitioned the Bombay High Court in August 2015. They lifted the ban on the nation but required further laboratory tests. Maggi was allowed back on the market after multiple tests found that samples were compliant with regulations. Fortune estimated that Nestle lost half a million dollars due to the scandal involving health. The massive recall of products cost $70 million to implement.
Nestle faces a class action lawsuit for $90 million in damages due to unfair trade practices and false labeling. This case was reopened by the Supreme Court earlier this month. Nestle released a statement stating that it welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision. This would allow the Central Food Technological Research Institute test to determine the suit. A Nestle spokesperson said that CFTR lab tests confirmed the samples complied with all health regulations. “We have conducted extensive tests on our Maggi noodles in India, in addition to our regular testing for the raw materials, and they are safe to consume.”
Maggi’s customer loyalty remained strong despite the media hype and clamoring for politicians. Maggi still controls the majority Indian instant-noodle market. Nestle has also seen a healthy recovery at the Bombay Stock Exchange after the ban was lifted. Kabra claims that customers would still go to Hungry Head despite a national ban on noodles. They would respond, ” Aap ke Paas toh Hoga: This is direct with the company. You must have it in stock!”
Kabra was kind enough to share his thoughts on Maggi’s popularity. He says, “People will always remember their Maggi memories, whether at home or in hostels.” Nestle agrees with this: I recall seeing TV ads that featured Scouts in camp cooking, teens in dorm rooms, and a mother sneaking broccoli into her child’s Maggi. These ads were taken from a semi-synthetic memory of my childhood. I wonder if they are real memories or just images I saw while watching them.
Nestle’s return strategy is a calculated appeal to this shared nostalgia. Nestle’s comeback strategy is a deliberate appeal to this shared nostalgia. The corporation launched an ad campaign that featured young people praising Maggi and, later, a rotating cast made up of mothers who assured children that Maggi noodles were safe. Nestle spokesperson stated that the brand is “taking proactive measures to continue reassuring consumers about the safety of Maggi noodles via a campaign in India.”
Kabra tells us a story about his childhood. He used to cook at night with his cousins on family vacations. They would add butter, oregano, and processed cheese to the pot to make an Italian-curry fusion Maggi. This sounds straight out of an advertisement. Although it may not taste like the peanut ketchup Maggi I grew up with, I must admit that it makes my mouth water. You can buy store-bought nostalgia if you need more time.