Major packaged-food companies lost $4 billion in market share alone last year, as shoppers swerved to fresh and organic alternatives. Can the supermarket giants win you back? ... While consumers have long associated the stuff on the labels they can’t pronounce with Big Food’s products—the endless strip of cans and boxes that primarily populate the center aisles of the grocery store—they now have somewhere else to turn (more on that in a bit). And that has brought the entire colossal, $1-trillion-a-year food retail business to a tipping point. ... Shoppers are still shopping, but they’re often turning to brands they believe can give them less of the ingredients they don’t want—and for the first time, they can find them in their local Safeway, Wegmans, or Wal-Mart. Rather than carry traditional products with stagnant sales, chains like Target are actively giving increasing space on their shelves to a slew of New Age players like yogurt-maker Chobani, Hampton Creek (which sells a popular plant-based mayo), Nature’s Path, Amy’s Kitchen, and Lifeway Foods, which makes a yogurt-like drink called kefir. Retailers are creating their own brands too.
Nestlé, the world’s largest food and beverage company, has sold Maggi (pronounced “MAG-ee”) in India for more than 30 years, and the brand’s ubiquity and cultural resonance on the subcontinent is something akin to Coca-Cola’s in the U.S. In 2014, Indians consumed more than 400,000 tons of the instant noodles—marketed in 10 varieties, from Thrillin’ Curry to Cuppa Mania Masala Yo!—and Maggi accounted for roughly a quarter of the company’s $1.6 billion in revenue in the country. That year Maggi was named one of India’s five most trusted brands. ... On June 5, 2015, less than a month after Khajuria’s phone rang in the middle of the night, India’s central food regulator announced a temporary ban on the manufacture, sale, and distribution of Maggi noodles. In its order the FSSAI pronounced Maggi “unsafe and hazardous for human consumption,” a designation supported by 30 government lab tests showing Nestlé’s noodles contained excess amounts of lead. ... The Maggi meltdown would prove costly. Nestlé lost at least $277 million in missed sales. Another $70 million was spent to execute one of the largest food recalls in history. Add the damage to its brand value—which one consultancy pegged at $200 million—and the total price tag for the debacle could easily be more than half a billion dollars. And the fallout continues. ... Nearly a year after the ban, Maggi noodles are back on shelves in India, but somewhat precariously so. The product’s future depends on two legal cases that are working their way through the Indian court system. Both pit Nestlé against the Indian government.