MUMBAI: Nestlé India has succumbed to mounting pressure and withdrawn its Maggi instant noodles from the nation's stores even as it continues to insist that the product is safe and as concerns spread beyond India's borders.
Several Indian states have already banned the product after finding excessive levels of lead in some packets, although others have done the same tests and found nothing untoward.
Retailers were taking no chances, Exchange4Media reported, as Maggi noodles disappeared from the shelves in Mumbai and from those of Big Bazaar, the country's largest hypermarket chain.
The Army has also stopped the sale of Maggi in its canteens and has issued an advisory to soldiers to avoid it.
Faced with this level of disquiet, Nestlé had little choice but to act.
"The trust of our consumers and the safety of our products is our first priority," the company said in a statement, reported by the Economic Times.
"Unfortunately, recent developments and unfounded concerns about the product have led to an environment of confusion for the consumer, to such an extent that we have decided to withdraw the product off the shelves, despite the product being safe."
Global CEO Paul Bulcke said the company "will do everything it takes, and [is] fully engaged with the authorities, to clarify the situation to have Maggi Noodles back on the shelves at the earliest". And since the brand accounts for around one quarter of Nestlé India's sales, the matter is urgent.
Shortly afterwards, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, the national regulator, weighed in, ordering the company to "stop further production, processing, import, distribution and sale of the said product with immediate effect".
Bloomberg reported that Nepal has banned Maggi shipments from India, while Singapore has asked importers to temporarily suspend sales. The UK and EC are also carrying out tests.
The dispute between the company and the regulators arises from the differences in how they measure lead levels: regulators have found excessive levels in the sachet of seasoning that accompanies the noodles but the company measures levels as a proportion of the total content – noodles and seasoning.
Data sourced from Exchange4Media, Economic Times, Exchange4Media, Bloomberg; additional content by Warc staff