We will be facing a new normal when the Covid-19 crisis is over, says Suresh Narayanan

Meenakshi Verma Ambwani New Delhi | Updated on April 09, 2020

Suresh Narayanan, Chairman and Managing Director, Nestlé India is no stranger to the crisis and has been credited with successfully leading the company out of the Maggi issue that hit it in 2015. As the world is grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic, in an email interview he told BusinessLine that the industry will need to gear up for the ‘new normal’ when this problem is over, and that the company is focussed on continuing supplies under the current challenging circumstances.


Subsequent to the lockdown, how are you managing the supply chain and production challenges?

It is natural that in situations like these, some delays to the delivery of both raw materials and finished goods may occur. This is a public health emergency situation and our priority is to continue supply under the challenging conditions, but we want to ensure that the much-needed food and beverage products are available to our consumers and communities throughout the country.

Have you begun production across all plants?

We have been in constant communication with authorities to ensure that we minimise the impact on operations. At the same time, we have taken strict social distancing and other precautionary measures at the operating manufacturing locations, to ensure the health and well-being of our people.

Are you witnessing big changes in consumer behaviour?

We will all be facing a new normal when this crisis is over. In terms of brand campaigns alone, advertising, which reflected an ‘out of home’ experience, may pave the way for more ‘in home consumption moments’. Ways of working are also expected to evolve, as the long lockdown periods have dispelled many of the notions associated with effectiveness issues while working from home.

Consumers have been complaining about the non-availability of Maggi on social media. What measures are you taking to strengthen the supply chains?

We understand and respect the love consumers have for Maggi and therefore, we have been reassuring them that we are doing everything we can to make sure it is available. Also, we understand there are consumers whose Maggi consumption may have gone up; for them, Brand Maggi is going to initiate a first-ever recipe service campaign which will help cook conveniently at home and also bring variety and innovation.

What steps has the company taken for the well-being of employees and factory workers? Would the company need to take certain tough measures in the future?

At Nestlé India, the safety, well-being and security of our people has always and will remain paramount in our minds. Technology has already played a vital role during this crisis, especially in terms of workforce connectivity. We are cognizant and sensitive to the human and emotional needs of our employees and have rolled out numerous ‘virtual’ engagement programmes, training programmes, mental health initiatives, ‘check-in’ programmes with youngsters who live alone or far from home, free advisory calls with accredited doctors in India and overseas pertaining to Covid-19.

In addition to this, for our front-line sales force who work for our distribution partners, we will be looking at rolling-out a ‘Nestle Suraksha’ programme to cover those who are not covered by Employees’ State Insurance, with a Covid-19 insurance protection for a period of three months. As a measure of our commitment and trust in them, they have been paid 100 per cent of their sales incentive for March 2020. We have rolled out across all operating factories a ‘Nestle Samman’ programme that will reward each operator for working during the stipulated period.

What is your advice to leaders and companies on measures they can take to weather the current situation, drawing from your own experience from the Maggi crisis?

There will always be times of stresses, challenges from the environment or unprecedented curve balls in the way. Every crisis leads a company as well as society at large back to its values. What we are witnessing is a public health emergency, far graver than anything as a society we have ever been through. At Nestlé India, during these unprecedented times, we go back to and reaffirm our 154-year-old purpose of enhancing quality of life and contributing to a healthier future, a cause even more relevant today.

Nestlé India has sought to respond to this crisis as a ‘Nestlé Family’ inclusive in our approach to address all our key stakeholders, suppliers, partners in addition to our employees. For example, our nearly 100,000 dairy farmers are part of the extended ‘Nestlé Family’ whose loyalty and trust we have earned over almost 6 decades. In this hour of crisis too, we stood by them and every drop of milk they gave us, we took into our factories for processing. Relationships, partnerships, trust, dignity and respect are words that are at the ‘centre’ of the Nestlé business framework and crises test how robust these are and whether you walk the talk.

Published on April 09, 2020

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