(Published in The DailyO: http://www.dailyo.in/business/maggi-noodles-lead-msg-food-johnson-and-johnson)
How would you feel if you found out one day that your oldest, most trusted friend has, in fact, been a wolf in sheep’s clothing ?
The disposition of the consumer today is somewhat similar when it is revealed that their trusted ‘go-to’ brands like Johnson & Johnson have been quietly concealing dubious ingredients in their products.
In what can only be termed as blatant dishonesty and an astounding ‘consumer conspiracy’, Johnson & Johnson, one of the largest and most trusted pharmaceutical and packaged consumer goods company born out of the United States was recently forced to strip and bare all by admitting that their Baby products did indeed, contain harmful carcinogens.
Parents the world over were shocked by this revelation coming from their most trusted and most used brand. Containing ingredients that release Formaldehyde which is a carcinogen, long known for its cancer-causing properties and association with leukaemia, it wasn’t just the baby shampoo but also many of J&J’s other baby products.
Unfortunately the credibility of trusted brands in our own country today is no less. The alarming surge in the number of trusted daily brands that were household names for years but are losing their credibility today is sending the consumer in hot pursuit of healthier alternatives. The proclivity of opting for the organic market for many food and beauty items today instead of their daily needs stores has become today’s new norm, in spite of steeper prices. T
he dust had just about settled around the Maggi noodles controversy when some of Mother Dairy’s milk samples in Agra were found to contain detergent in June 2015. This revelation only furthered the alreading brewing debate on whether milk really is beneficial or harmful – an issue that is still to find a conclusive closing argument. While living in Europe, I noticed that the Europeans seem to already have switched to alternatives to milk such as yoghurt, while in the Asian sectors, consumers are still known to be grappling with the issue.
An investigation launched by India Today in October, 2015 revealed some shocking details on how food samples in India are passed or failed with monetary bribes. The eye-opening video shows food inspectors agreeing to pass potential toxic samples at a price. There is no knowing how long and deep the arm of corruption extends and it is ultimately the innocent consumer that bears the brunt of it all.
It is no wonder then that the organic and ‘natural’ industry has found its footing and a profitable business across the globe. From daily groceries to hair oils, shampoos and cosmetic products, today the stamp of ‘organic’ on a box of chicken broiler to exotic face oils and sunscreens weighs a ton in influencing consumer buying decisions.
The seed of consciousness was planted long ago but incidents of dubious ingredients causing a health panic have only escalated the need for the informed consumer to become pickier. Word of mouth and the internet have become powerful weapons of information that the smart consumer today is armed with; gone are the days when their ignorance and lack of options could be used to dupe them.
There are of course, the lower income families to think of who cannot switch to a daily organic lifestyle. In fact, the high prices of organic food items compels even upper-middle to higher class families to only buy select items from the organic markets. This is perhaps the biggest impediment to the growth of the organic industry in India. Even so, the organic market was expected to grow to 7000 crore in 2015. Says Krishan Gupta, the global CEO of Organic India, Fab India, (the company that enjoys the lion’s share of organic products in India),” We work closely with farmers, assuring them to pay premium prices so that they don’t suffer financially and give-up the organic method of farming.”
I recently moved to the UAE from Germany. Interestingly, the popularity and perception of the organic industry in both countries presents quite a contrast.
Germany is the largest organic producer and consumer in Europe with a sales volume of 5.8 billion euros and an average growth of 15% each year. Owing to its long-drawn history of ‘Going Green’ the German people embraced the organic lifestyle with open arms with a whopping 90% of the population giving their nod of approval.
The story in the Emirates is a little different. Letters to the editor of The National this month revealed that while there certainly is growing interest and inclination for purchasing organic foods, the high prices are an impediment to this end for many Emirati consumers.
There is a collective call for making organic food more affordable so that it can be introduced into the household diet, starting from school tiffin meals. The cost of organic milk, for example has been estimated to be upto 5 times more expensive than regular milk.
Here in Abu Dhabi,I now have to go to a special market to buy chicken that specifies ‘Organic’ on the box instead of buying it during my routine run to the supermarket. There is flared consciousness about these things here, something that was much less of a concern in Germany, perhaps owing to the stringent regulation on pesticides and preservatives.
With the opening of many organic markets, the consumer today has the upper hand. She will not be swayed by pretty packaging. In such an environment, the fraudulent conglomerate stands to lose the most.