At a lively street market in Lagos, dozens of women sit by their stands in the shade of colourful umbrellas, displaying fresh produce, bottles of fish sauce and a variety of seasonings. Known locally as mammies, they help sell more than 80 million bouillon cubes across Nigeria each day.
Maggi bouillon, used throughout central and West Africa to add flavour to everything from stews to cassava porridge, represents one of Nestle’s best-selling products in the region. The world’s largest food company is using unusual marketing methods — from home visits to producing a web drama — to generate loyalty for the brand.
Those efforts are crucial for Nestle at a time when Big Food is seeing sluggish sales for many flagship brands as customers seek out goods they view as fresh, healthy and local. While some shoppers may avoid Maggi’s stock seasonings in the developed world because of its sodium content, its bouillon cubes are so prevalent in Nigeria that consumers view Maggi as a local brand.
“How are we going to cook stew without Maggi in it?” said 44-year-old food vendor Saidat Adetutu. “It has been used in my house since I knew my left from right.”
Maggi, in line with Nestle’s broader efforts, has been revamping its products to reduce salt, saturated fat and sugar, while adding ingredients that are more nutritious. Globally, Maggi sales rose more than three per cent to an estimated $2.3 billion in 2018, but annual growth in emerging markets is in double digits, Chief Financial Officer Francois-Xavier Roger told analysts last year.
The second season of Maggi’s web series, Yelo Peppe, is set to kick off later in 2020, according to an Accra, Ghana-based spokeswoman. The drama follows five female
characters and their relationships with food and cooking. It drew more than 20 million views in its first season and generated buzz for the brand, said Dominique Allier, Maggi’s brand manager in central and West Africa.
It’s been a long journey for a business born in a small Swiss town at the end of the 19th century with the goal of producing nutritious, inexpensive and easy-to-prepare food. The introduction of liquid seasoning, the bouillon cube and more women joining the workforce led to an expansion, including into Germany, where Maggi became a key food producer for the Third Reich. Nestle acquired Maggi when that market collapsed after World War II.
Convenience remains a key selling point. Aside from stock cubes, Maggi also makes instant noodles, powdered sauces and soups and cooking pastes. “Maggi’s growth is driven by demographics in emerging markets, with more people and more women entering the workforce and urbanisation,” Wayne England, the head of Nestle’s food unit, said in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland.
To better understand its customers, Maggi gets up close and personal by visiting homes, inviting women and children to kitchens to cook together, and, in Nigeria, working with the mammies to both sell its products and gather feedback from shoppers.
The home visits led to at least one recent innovation, the Naija Pot cube. After discovering a preference for smoked-fish tastes in southern Nigeria, Maggi developed a bouillon cube that captures the flavour while cutting preparation time. Maggi’s products fit with the local cuisine, which mainly consists of stews and pots.
The brand has had challenges, most notably in India. Nestle was forced to burn more than 35,000 tons of instant noodles in 2015 and the product was banned from shelves for six months after the government said it contained hazardous levels of lead. Maggi returned with new products it said were healthier, and regained its market leading position, with 60 per cent share, by August 2018.