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Nestle Jamaica trying to contain fallout from Maggi India product recall

Published:Wednesday | June 10, 2015 | 12:00 AMTameka Gordon
The Maggi Masala product recalled in India.
Jürg Blaser, country manager for Nestlé Jamaica Limited.
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Maggi Masala, which is made by Nestle India, has been found on grocery shelves in four of Jamaica's parish capitals.

"If people start to think that (local) Maggi soups, recipes\mixes or seasoning are also affected by this, then it can become really an economic loss," said Nestle Jamaica Country Manager J¸rg Blaser. Nestle is a Swiss-owned food and beverage company.

Blaser does not expect an immediate financial fallout for Jamaican operation but says the negative publicity could eventually take a toll on its reputation. So far, the damage is on the international brand and not directly on local sales since Nestle Jamaica does not import or distribute Masala noodles, he said.

India's Food Safety and Standards Authority has found that Nestle India's Maggi instant noodle products are "unsafe and hazardous" despite that company's insistence that the products are safe.

Nestle India was forced to withdraw the Maggi brand from stores amid the regulator's findings of higher-than-allowed levels of lead in some packets of Masala noodles.

So far, the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) has found the product on shelves in Kingston, Montego bay and Mandeville, said a Nestle representative. The BSJ itself also confirmed sitings in Ocho Rios.

"The products have been found on supermarket shelves, but they are not distributed by Nestle Jamaica. They are brought in directly by the supermarket or wholesalers themselves," said Nestle Jamaica corporate communications manager Shawna Kidd.

She said the company is in contact "daily" with the BSJ and is monitoring local developments.

The standards agency says, however, that there is little it can do to stop the imports, given that Jamaica is a free market.

"It's free trade so it's not like we can stop them. Our primary role is to make sure that product meets the requirements of the product standards and the labelling regulations," said director of the BSJ's regulatory division, Orine Henry.

Still, the agency said it is trying to locate the importers and distributors of Masala noodles.

"When we go the different locations, we are trying to ascertain who they bought from. So when we have completed our investigations, we would have information on who these different persons are," Henry said.

The BSJ is still awaiting the test results carried out on noodles found on local grocery shelves. In the meantime, Henry has urged consumers to be vigilant.

Nestle Jamaica is also conducting its own checks.

"We have been checking the batch codes of these products that have been found in Jamaica to make sure that even though they are not being sold by us, Nestle Jamaica Limited, that they are proper," said Blaser.

Beyond that, there is not much the company can do, he said.

"Legally, we cannot do anything. We cannot enforce it," the country manager said. Nestle Jamaica imports Maggi products for distribution - including bouillon seasonings, soup and recipe mixes such as coconut milk - but was mum on volume sales.

Kidd suggests that Masala noodles may be stocked by retailers who are catering to particular clientele, and not because of price. However, a top supermarket known to sell the product told Wednesday Business that the Masala noodles are cheaper than the products distributed by Nestle Jamaica and that they "actually get orders" for the India-made product".

tameka.gordon@gleanerjm.com