Madhuri Dixit in hot water over Maggi commercial


When brand endorsements go bad, it is usually the celebrity at fault, either through personal scandal or professional misconduct.

But Madhuri Dixit, the Bollywood superstar, has found herself in hot water after Nestlé India's Maggi noodles — a brand she represents — came under scrutiny from local food safety authorities.

Bollywood legends routinely rent out their celebrity to help companies sell to India's star-struck consumers — endorsing everything from everyday goods such as underwear and soft drinks, to big ticket items including jewellery, air conditioners, and even upcoming housing developments.

Now Ms Dixit is under the spotlight. Authorities in Uttar Pradesh have issued a notice to the 48-year-old, who had her heyday as a Hindi film ingénue in the 1990s, demanding she justify claims she makes in Maggi television commercials that the instant noodles are a healthy food for children.

The demand comes against the backdrop of an escalating conflict between regional food safety authorities in the state of Uttar Pradesh and the Indian arm of the Swiss consumer goods company over the safety of Maggi noodles, a popular food product among India's time-pressed middle classes.

The Press Trust of India reported that the UP Food Safety and Drug Administration filed a case in a local court on Saturday against Nestlé, challenging the safety of its instant noodles.

In late May, UP food inspectors ordered Nestlé to recall a batch of Maggi noodles from shops across India, saying routine tests on two dozen packets had found dangerously high levels of lead.

Scientists from the food safety authority also said they found elevated levels of monosodium glutamate, a flavour enhancer.

Nestlé took issue with the recall order, saying the contested batch was produced in February 2014, and had already reached its "best before" date last November. It said it regularly collected outstanding stock near its expiry date from distributors and retailers, and was "confident that these packs are no longer available in the market".

The company also said it routinely tests the ingredients it uses in making its instant noodles for lead, as part of its quality control process. "We regularly monitor all our raw materials for lead, including testing by accredited laboratories which have consistently shown levels in Maggi to be within permissible limits," Nestlé said in a statement.
Nestlé added that it does not add MSG to Maggi noodles in India, but that the noodles do contain glutamate from its hydrolysed groundnut protein, onion power and wheat flour, which it said "produces a positive result in a test for MSG".

Nestlé said it has said it has submitted new samples of its noodles to an independent laboratory for testing, and would share results with the authorities.

Meanwhile, advertising industry executives have rallied around Ms Dixit, saying it was unfair for authorities to target her in their quarrel with Nestlé. But over the weekend, the actress met Nestlé officials to express her concern.

"Like most of India, I have enjoyed Maggi noodles for years," the actress told her 3.6m Twitter followers on Saturday. "I was very concerned after recent reports and met with the Nestlé team."

"Nestlé has reassured me that they adhere to stringent testing for quality and safety and are working with the authorities closely," she tweeted.


(www.ft.com)

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